You'll have to be quick to see the V & A's free show of botanical illustrations -- it closes on September 24 -- but it's well worth it. Actually, this exhibition has been on since February, but I only recently learned of it. In fact, the main criticism I have of the V & A is that it tends not to publicise its small, free exhibitions very well -- very little outside promotion, and no posters in the museum itself. Most people who have seen this show will probably have stumbled across it.
What they will have found is two rooms of beautiful art, spanning from 16th-century herbals to 20th-century seed packets. The show includes drawings, paintings, photographs and nature prints (in which an impression is made directly from the plant itself). Despite the buzz of museum visitors around me, I found walking through the exhibition very peaceful -- almost as good as visiting an actual garden.
Botanical art has traditionally been looked down upon as "mere" illustration, lacking the loftier goals of true art. And yet it seems to me that creating (and, to a lesser extent, even looking at) a botanical illustration could be viewed as an act of contemplation. Isn't there something profound about paying such close attention to a single fruit of the earth?