Garden Museum acquires rare Gertrude Jekyll photo album

London's Garden Museum has acquired a unique album of photographs by garden designer Gertrude Jekyll, containing 59 platinum prints dated between 1885 and 1886.

Gertrude Jekyll, "Flower Border in July with Groups of Mulleins, Sea Holly and other Summer Flowers", 1886 ┬ęGarden Museum
Gertrude Jekyll, "Flower Border in July with Groups of Mulleins, Sea Holly and other Summer Flowers", 1886 ┬ęGarden Museum

Jekyll took up photography, under the tutelage of her brother, Sir Herbert, in 1885 developing a special
interest in recording English vernacular architecture and rural traditions.

She used her photography principally to represent visually the ideas suggested in her writing, which were published in her hugely influential books, works such as Wood and Garden (1899) about her experiences as an amateur gardener at Munstead Wood and Old West Surrey (1904) which records the architecture, crafts and traditions of her home county.

Jekyll was important as one of the few garden writers and designers who took and used her own photographs alongside her text in order to emphasise her aesthetic style.

Whilst Jekyll left behind more than 2000 prints in six photo-notebooks (now at UC Berkeley, CA) this album is exceptionally important as it is a selection of those photographs which she considered her best work. They mark a moment of self-realisation as a photographer,standing out for their creative quality and reaching beyond record photography.

The superiority of the platinum prints illustrate her skill as a photographer and her superior grasp of the technical craft of exposing and developing fine art photography prints.

Jekyll used photography to record and scrutinise the landscape around her. Tree studies were a favourite and the subject of some of her most artistic photography. They demonstrate a focused study of form, composition and perspective. She developed a habit of close observation through her study of cottage gardens, local houses and their inhabitants and took direct inspiration from them whilst developing her garden designs. The album gives us a greater understanding of how she developed her ideas as a gardener and writer.

The purchase of the album was made possible thanks to a grant of £36,603 from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) and the support of £15,000 from the Art Fund and £5,000 from the Friends of the National Libraries.

Sir Peter Luff, Chair of NHMF, said: "We're delighted to support this acquisition, the latest of more than 1,200 items of the UK's outstanding heritage to have been saved for the nation through NHMF grants. The album provides a rare insight into Jekyll's life and legacy and will make a fantastic addition to the Garden Museum's collections."

Stephen Deuchar, Director of the Art Fund, said: "This is the only one of Gertude Jekyll's albums to return to Britain and to be held in a public collection here. We can think of no better home than the Garden Museum, and are pleased to have been able to help. We look forward to seeing it there when the museum reopens next year."

The prints bound together in a single album document the tastes of Britain's best known garden maker in the early years of her career and illustrate the interest that would later inspire her to popularise a more naturalistic and painterly style of garden design.

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