Picasso in the Landscape 

It shouldn’t, but it does come as a surprise to learn that at least 50 plants bear this painter’s name. A painter who was also one of the first occidentals of the last century to so adamantly speak for the trees.

Roberto Burle Marx, whose career spanned a good 62 years (born in 1909 in São Paulo he passed away in 1994 in Rio) is best known as a Brazilian landscape architect and loved for his introduction of modernist elements into the landscape architects canon.

But he initially trained as a painter, first in Berlin, then again in his native land with the likes of Tyrolese “art nouveau” painter Leo Putz. It would appear that Marx almost studied music at university instead. 

One might suppose that its almost as if the young artist entered the landscaping trade by chance, upon invitation by a neighbour down the road, so to speak, to help design a residential garden. And this would not be far from the truth. 

And design Marx did. Being the painterly person that he was, it is no wonder that Cubism and Abstraction are the most visible elements of his extensive work. High contrast and tight patterning are typical. Marx has even been referred to as the Picasso of landscape design. You can discover more in this short clip.

I find it a compelling discovery — Marx’s many fine arts talents and crafting skills: painter, musician, print maker, jewelry designer, textile designer and fabulous chef. He painted his own table cloths.

But more unusual was his botanical competency : he was a self trained naturalist. It is with some comic effect to learn that Marx’s interest was first piqued after a visit to the botanical gardens of Berlin, where he lived for a few years as a youngster.

After returning to Brazil to continue his art studies Marx spent a great deal of time in the forests. Eventually he made it a habit to drag teams of architects and landscape architects, botanists and horticulturalist with him. Marx amassed a collection of 3,500 tropicals, with marked interest for philodendrons, and has a slew of plants bearing his name.

One such specimen is a heliciconia, which can be found in many gardens around the world and enjoyed for its spectacular beauty. Meet Heliconia hirsute Burle Marx.

(The painter also incidentally discovered a few….rocks. You can read more extensively about him here.)

The Sitio Roberto Burle Marx, the home base of the architect on the outskirts of Rio can be visited. It has become a destination for botanists and landscape architects alike since it was trusted to the Brazilian government and made a public monument. Burle Marx was keen on creating a school where representatives of the two professions would work most closely.


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