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Meet Lady Tait: Profile of an Artist

FEB 4, 2020




Last week the Kirstenbosch Branch of the Botanical Society were proud to launch the special art exhibition ‘Full Circle: Lady Tait returns to Kirstenbosch’ in celebration of botanical artist Lady Cynthia Tait (1894-1962), bringing a selection of her exquisite watercolour paintings back to South Africa where they are on show in the Richard Crowie Hall at Kirstenbosch NBG from 16 January until 15 March 2020. The exhibition is curated by Mary van Blommestein of the University of Cape Town’s Irma Stern Museum. But who was Lady Tait? We take a closer look on the BotSoc Blog.


Above: Selected Proteaceae artwork by Lady Cynthia Tait on show at the ‘Full Circle’ exhibition.


Lady Cynthia Tait (nee Grenfell) was born in 1894 and was the 6th of 7 children born to British Naval Captain Hubert Henry Grenfell and Eleanor Kate Cunningham. Her grandparents Algernon and Maria de Guerin Price Grenfell were from the island of Guernsey in the Channel Islands, off the coast of Normandy in France. Cynthia and her siblings had a large extended family on Guernsey and spent many happy childhood holidays on the island.


Above: Selected artworks by Lady Cynthia Tait featured in the exhibition ‘Full Circle’.


Lady Cynthia’s first husband was Admiral Sir William Eric Campbell Tait, who was commander-in-chief of the Royal Navy, South African Army and South African Air Force for the South Atlantic station, with headquarters in Cape Town. For the first few years her husband was posted overseas, Lady Tait remained on Guernsey while her two daughters attended school at Blanchelande College, St Martin’s.

During and after the Second World War, Lady Tait spent much of her time in South Africa. It was here that she started to paint, with her earliest work focusing on landscapes and seascapes. With time her work gained an increasing focus on the indigenous wildflowers of South Africa.

After Admiral Sir William Campbell Tait died in 1946, Lady Tait became married to Lancelot Ussher, who’s home of Luncarty was next door to the spectacular Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens. Lady Tait became a frequent visitor to Kirstenbosch, painting many beautiful wildflowers of the area.


Above: Selected combined botanical artworks by Lady Cynthia Tait on show at the exhibition ‘Full Circle’.


Her beautiful botanical artworks were recognised by the Royal Horticultural Society of the UK, where she was awarded the silver medal in 1956 for her exhibit of Cape Wildflower paintings and a bronze medal in 1961 for an exhibit of South African Gladiolus. The latter work is now held in the archives at the Compton Herbarium at Kirstenbosch NBG.

Part of the collection of Lady Cynthia’s artwork was inherited by her granddaughter Cynthia Cormack and grandson William Astley Jones. This stunning botanical artwork has been brought to South Africa on loan made possible by sponsorship thanks to Rickety Bridge Winery and Duncan Spence of Gateway Publishing. A selection of the artwork has also been published in the beautiful Tait Florilegium book which is on sale at the exhibition for R1850.

The exhibition ‘Full Circle: Lady Tait returns to Kirstenbosch’ is on show in the Richard Crowie Hall at Kirstenbosch NBG until 15 March and is open daily from 9h00 until 18h00. Entry to the exhibition is free but garden entry fees apply. BotSoc members with valid membership cards will gain free access to the garden and exhibition.


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