On 23 July a show entitled ‘I still believe in miracles’ will open in Inverleith House. It is a retrospective of the exhibitions of contemporary art, and of botanical drawings selected from the RBGE archives, that have been curated by Paul Nesbitt and myself since 1986, when RBGE ‘reclaimed’ the former Regius Keeper’s residence from its intervening use as the Gallery of Modern Art.
Galleries 2 and 5 are devoted to botanical works, collectively entitled ‘Elements of Botany’, after one of John Hutton Balfour’s school textbooks. The central ground-floor gallery (2) is devoted to the ‘Art of Education’, with works drawn from the collections of John Hope (Regius Keeper 1761 to 1786) and John Hutton Balfour (Regius Keeper 1845 to 1879). As well as teaching diagrams made for Hope, there are drawings relating to his Leith Walk Garden in celebration of the recent rebuilding of Botanic Cottage. Balfour’s teaching diagrams were painted for him by the Edinburgh artist Neil Stewart, and also included are four papier mâché plant models of the sort that Balfour purchased from the Berlin firm of Brendel.
In the central first-floor gallery (5) are Indian botanical drawings, representing Hope’s influence both in his own time and posthumously. The earliest drawing on display is one sent to him from Bengal by his student James Kerr in around 1775. There are also works commissioned by two of Hope’s star pupils (both of whom studied in the upper room of the Botanic Cottage) – William Roxburgh and Francis Buchanan, the latter lent by the Linnean Society. Representing the next generation are watercolours made for Alexander Gibson and Robert Wight (pupils of Daniel Rutherford), and the display concludes with six drawings commissioned, from a variety of artists, by Hugh Cleghorn. Cleghorn was a ‘grand-pupil’ of Hope, whose eponymous grandfather had also studied in that upper room in 1770; the grandson, however, studied botany at Inverleith (in 1838 and 1839) under Robert Graham, successor to Rutherford.
The exhibition also forms part of the events to celebrate the publication, on 12 August, of two new books on Cleghorn – a biography, Indian Forester, Scottish Laird: the Botanical Lives of Hugh Cleghorn of Stravithie. And a colourful book containing a selection of the 3000 drawings that he had made by Indian artists during his 25 years as an East India Company surgeon and pioneering forester entitled The Cleghorn Collection: South Indian Botanical Drawings 1845 to 1860.