Caroline Frances-King

Travelling to China to paint a rare tree

I have been painting and exhibiting with the Bath Society of Botanical Artists for many years. In 2008 we chose as our exhibition theme, ‘plants associated with the plant collector Augustine Henry’. While researching these I became very interested in a rare tree he discovered which, although now in collections across the world, had only been recorded as flowering outside its native China five times. Now becoming obsessed with painting it in flower, I applied to the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust – and was completely stunned when I was awarded a Travelling Fellowship!

It was a very challenging six-week project, and while I didn’t succeed in my quest, it led to many other interesting things happening.

One of these was returning to China in 2010 to paint a portfolio of plants for a medicinal plant garden being set up by a German scientist in Yunnan Province.

Three years later I used these paintings as part of my submission to the RHS – Royal Horticultural Society – for assessment to be accepted to exhibit at their annual international botanical art show in London. I was accepted and exhibited a portfolio of different paintings in 2014 for which I was awarded a Silver Gilt medal.

Finally, a few years after I’d returned from China, I heard the tree, Emmenopterys henryi, was inexplicably in full flower at Cambridge Botanic Gardens and was thrilled when the Director allowed me to spend two days there doing field sketches. I returned home with a huge bunch of the creamy white, star-shaped flowers, with their heady scent of primrose and gardenia and, for all too brief a time, my little flat smelled heavenly – I finally achieved my goal of painting this enigmatically flowering tree.

I am giving a talk on my adventures in China and painting medicinal plants at BRLSI on Friday 5 October 7pm – 8pm for the Museum of East Asian Art, where I have worked for five years.

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