Research - Elhanan Bicknell's art collection

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

turner blue righiHaving completed the six years' work culminating in the Clarence Bicknell 2018 centenary I have turned my attention to his father. Elhanan Bicknell's art collection is the stuff of legend and huge value ... Clarence's one thirteenth share was enough to see him in funds for life.

I am assessing each item of Elhanan's collection, like Turner's Blue Righi, right, and those bought after his death by his son Henry Sanford Bicknell, to find out where they are now and whether they have played any part in our artistic and cultural history. I have two copies each of the catalogues of the 1863 and 1881 sales, each marked up with the sale price and other notes.If you have a copy of either, or other useful documentation and letters, please do let me know at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you would like to contribute copies for my research.

I start from a brilliant summary of Elhanan Bicknell and the great artist he sponsored, J.W.T.Turner by Peter Bicknell my uncle in 1987. The article is in Turner Studies from the Tate Gallery, Vol.7 No.1. Copies can be had on eBay and Amazon from time to time, but if you would like to read it please click on the link below.

Turner Studies 1987

independent turner society

A preview of my work will be the subject of a presentation to the Independent Turner Society, chairman Selby Whittingham, in November 2019 in London...

    • Two Turner Collectors, Friends of Ruskin
    • Saint Cuthbert's Church, Philbeach Gardens, Earls Court, London SW5 9EB
    • Wed, 20 November 2019 at 18:30

Book Review - MARVELS in Huntia (Carnegie Mellon)

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

marvels front cover smallWe were delighted that Charlotte Tancin, Librarian at the Hunt Institute in Pittsburgh, reviewed MARVELS and alerted us to its publication in their review Huntia.

The Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, a research division of Carnegie Mellon University, specializes in the history of botany and all aspects of plant science and serves the international scientific community through research and documentation. To this end, the Institute acquires and maintains authoritative collections of books, plant images, manuscripts, portraits and data files, and provides publications and other modes of information service. The Institute meets the reference needs of botanists, biologists, historians, conservationists, librarians, bibliographers and the public at large, especially those concerned with any aspect of the North American flora.


Lester, Valerie. Marvels: The Life of Clarence Bicknell, Botanist, Archaeologist, Artist. Leicester: Matador, 2018. ix, 245, [1] p., port., maps, ill. (mostly color). £25.00. ISBN 978-1-7890-1494-5 (hardback).

Here at Hunt Institute we primarily know of Clarence Bicknell (1842–1918) as a botanist who wrote about the flora around the Maritime Alps and the Italian Riviera coast and as a botanical artist. In this biography by Valerie Lester we have a fuller picture of him as also being an Anglican clergyman, archaeologist, Esperantist and a socially engaged British expatriate who lived for 40 years in Bordighera, a vacation spot and Italian home to a number of Britons and Europeans.

Botanically, Bicknell was an enthusiastic explorer, cataloger, classifier and artist. By 1884 he had made more than 1,000 watercolor drawings of local wildflowers from the Riviera and the Maritime Alps. His publications from this period include Flowering Plants and Ferns of the Riviera and Neighbouring Mountains (1885) and Flora of Bordighera and San Remo (1896). He was a highly skilled amateur in the best sense of that term. He became friends with Swiss botanist Emile Burnat (1828–1920) in the mid-1880s, and they corresponded for 31 years, also visiting each other and sharing knowledge and specimens, and “bonded in personality, interests, and collections” (p. 83). Bicknell contributed hundreds of specimens to Burnat’s herbarium — now at Geneva along with their correspondence — and many descriptions to Burnat’s Flore des Alpes Maritimes (1892–1931), co-written with John Briquet (1870–1931) and François Cavillier (1868–1953).

Bicknell discovered several new plant species, including two later named for him: Pimpinella bicknellii Briquet and Euphrasia bicknellii Wettstein. He also became friends with Florentine botanist Stefano Sommier (1848–1922), who was writing a book on the wildflowers of the Tuscan archipelago. He and Bicknell exchanged plant lists and specimens and remained in correspondence. Another connection was H. Stuart Thompson (1870–1940), whose Flowering Plants of the Riviera (1914) contains 112 Bicknell watercolors. Beyond these botanical friendships he had numerous others, maintaining a vigorous correspondence and plant exchange throughout his life.

His other scientific focus was ancient rock carvings. in 1881 Bicknell found petroglyphs in Vallée des Merveilles / Valle delle Meraviglie, and beginning in 1885 he located, copied and cataloged more than 10,000 stone carvings. He published several works on them, including Guide to the Prehistoric Rock Engravings of the Italian Maritime Alps (1913). He had a summer retreat built in Casterino from which to sojourn on botanizing and petroglyph-hunting trips. At a 1905 congress on archaeology in Monaco, Bicknell made another new friend, Émile Cartailhac (1845–1921), who was exploring for petroglyphs in caves. the two corresponded intensively and traveled together to Ariège and the Pyrenees to look for petroglyphs.

Beyond Bicknell’s scientific interests, this biography lays out his whole life story, giving greater context and a colorful view of a full life. He was an active part of the expatriate community in Bordighera and to some extent also of the local community. in the mid-1880s he commissioned a new building for his herbarium, library and paintings and for a community center, and the displays and events were open to all.

In 1887 and 1908 two catastrophic earthquakes hit this area of Italy. Bordighera escaped severe damage, but Bicknell aided others by taking provisions to villages by mulecart. His philanthropy included working with Father Giacomo Viale (1830–1912) to create St. Joseph’s Home for the Aged Poor in 1912 and working with the Red Cross during World War I, visiting the sick and turning his museum over to convalescing soldiers. Throughout his life in Italy, Bicknell was helped in his domestic, travel-related and research activities by Giacomo Pollini and his son Luigi, assistants who became dear friends, and several other loyal assistants.

Other interests also filled his life. Intrigued by the idea of a universal language as a possible key to world peace, from 1897 Bicknell developed an active interest in Esperanto and attended congresses including one in Boulogne in 1905. Also around that time, Bicknell explored making creative plant drawings in less portraitist and more Arts and Crafts-inspired styles, producing albums of brilliant and inventive artworks; seven of these are now at the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge.

Bicknell died suddenly on 17 July, 1918 while resting on a balcony in full view of the mountains he loved. Lester’s engaging tribute to him includes notes, bibliography and index.

— Charlotte Tancin, Librarian

You can look at the complete edition of Huntia at

Here is the pdf of the book reviews in this edition: book reviews

Research - Clarence's trip to Australia or New Zealand THAT NEVER WAS

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

unidentified tall shipWriters since the death of Clarence Bicknell in 1918, including my uncle Peter Bicknell from who I inherited the Bicknell Collection, persist in saying that Clarence Bicknell travelled to Australia and New Zealand. I remind all students of the man that there is NO EVIDENCE THAT HE WENT and much evidence that he never had a period of time in which to do so.

As a member of the research team under the late Valerie Lester for her MARVELS: The Life of Clarence Bicknell (2018) I compiled an extensive list of the dates and places recorded in Clarence's letters, diaries, sketchbooks and water colours. This list of over 2,300 entries is an Excel spreadsheet available to researchers on request. The only period when he could possibly have gone (in his whole life) was in the second half of 1879 when "he dropped out of sight".

My list of dates and places records a sketch by Clarence in his sketchbook CL111 in Bussage (near Stroud in the UK, where he sometimes visited) dated 27th June 1879. On 21st September 1879 he is apparently in Broadlands, the religious think-tank retreat, according to a letter from Clarence to Mrs Cowper Temple, the Broadlands organiser. However, the date on this letter is only a pencilled date, a hand other than Clarence's notes Valerie. Maybe this date is wrong. Then there is nothing until 22 December 1879, a sketch of a monastery near Nice in our sktechbook CL116 by Clarence. If indeed there are 6 months empty (not two periods of three months), could he have got to Australia and New Zealand and back?

clipper routeNo. The clipper ships bound for Australia and New Zealand would call at a variety of ports. A ship sailing from Plymouth to Sydney, for example, would cover around 13,750 miles (22,130 km); a fast time for this passage would be around 100 days ( Other web sources say the quickest at the end of the 19th century would be three months. If Clarence hitched a lift on one of the remaining boats of his late father's fleet (Clarence's brother Percy had stepped into their father's shoes at Langton & Bicknell, the whale oil business suffering from the adoption of gas then electricity for town lighting, and did not liquidate it till 1907) it would have taken nearly four months each way. So are we to believe that Clarence travelled all that way and came straight back again? No, he would not have done that because his main interest was not the travel but the botany and the sights when he got to the destination.

For the record, here are the mentions of Australia and New Zealand in MARVELS, the mentions which are tangentuial to Clarence's own story but which have been misinterpreted...

  • MARVELS p.7... When Elhanan started work with John Langton, whaling was at its height and the Pacific trade was opening up. Though the range of the sperm whale was world-wide, the hunting grounds off the east coast of Australia and around New Zealand were particularly abundant, and that is where Langton and Bicknell concentrated their efforts.
  • MARVELS p.8... Lucinda passed on to Clarence a passion for drawing wildflowers, playing the piano and singing. She may also have kindled in him an interest in foreign travel by reading aloud from the letters of her six brothers and one sister who variously travelled as far as the West Indies, Latvia, India, Australia, New Zealand and Mauritius.
  • MARVELS p.74... Clarence also planted two Moreton Bay figs (Ficus macrophylla), descended from the first specimen brought to Italy from Australia by Lord Howe
  • MARVELS p.154... Clarence and Bingham had much to talk about – the botany of the area, the rock carvings, and the local ants, for this was the same Bingham Crowther who had probably provided Clarence with the specimens of the Australian ant named for him: Iridomyrmex bicknelli. Clarence gave specimens of this ant and others to his friend Oreste Mattirolo (1856–1947), Professor of Botany and Director of the Botanical Garden at Bologna from 1894 to 1900, who in turn handed them on to Carlo Emery (1848–1925), Professor of Zoology at the University of Bologna, who wrote up the ant and named it after Clarence in gratitude for the gift.

Here are two further mentions of the putative destinations with Valerie's conclusions, supported by my work, that Clarence did not make a truip to Australia and New Zealand.

  • MARVELS p.51... Dreaming of buying the Villa Rosa from the Fanshawes, Clarence returned to the Italian Riviera sometime in the autumn of 1879, after many months of spiritual reflection during which he dropped out of sight. It is tempting to believe that he might have travelled to New Zealand during that time, but a New Zealand trip is hearsay and impossible to nail down (See Chapter 16), and there are simply not enough uninterrupted months to allow for such a long trip in 1879. Nor do we have any sketchbooks or diaries to use as conclusive evidence for such a trip at any point.
  • MARVELS p.186... Ceylon is known for its gems, especially rubies and sapphires – Farrer goes on for pages about them – and Mrs Ferguson would have helped Clarence pick out a truly gorgeous necklace. He owed it to Mercede for having taken her husband away for ten weeks. It seems likely that the Fergusons sealed their friendship with Clarence by giving him the Maori jade pendants of which he was so fond. As the Fergusons had travelled to New Zealand on leave from Ceylon,282 a gift of jade pendants to rockmad Clarence seems quite natural. Margaret Berry, who inherited them, attached a note to the pendants saying that he acquired them in Ceylon; but if Margaret were mistaken about their provenance, they become a shred of evidence to justify Peter Bicknell’s mention – often repeated by others without evidence – that Clarence himself had travelled to New Zealand. However, the team researching this biography has for years been scouring ships’ records and botanical records in New Zealand for mention of his name but have yielded nothing, nor did Clarence ever refer to such a journey.

I have also noted some other reference to "Bicknell" in Australia or New Zealand. These might have caused confusion for some amateurs, but they are clearly people other than Clarence Bicknell 1842-1918.

  • Clarence Ralph Bicknell of Birkenhead, New Zealand, died 15 September 1916 in the trenches in Europe. WW1 Lance Corporal/Military AWMM
    New Zealand Rifle Brigade, 2nd Battalion AWMM. Several web references.
  • Clarence travelled to Egypt in 1889 on a boat bound eventually for Australia. He disembarked at Alexandria. MARVELS chapter 8
  • Arthur C. Bicknell wrote the book Travel and adventure in Northern Queensland, published in London by Longmans, Green in 1895. and elsewhere. The subject matter would have appealed to our Clarence ... "Method of tree-climbing with aid of kamin; Nollanolla described; p.58; Collection &? preparation of ants eggs &? beetles as food; p.95; Contact with natives on Gilbert R., notes on scarification, fire-making; General remarks on lack of clothing, role of women, diseases &? cures; method of cooking; burial customs in detail cremation in some areas; fear of spirits; cannibalism practised; duties of women outlined Mitchell R. area; Gilbert R. - huts described, smoking, songs, basketry, medicine men, fishing &? weapons; Prince of Wales Is. - scarification of bodies, exhibition of spearthrowing."
  • Most recently, in 2018, it was reported that another Australian plant was found by Claudio Littardi in the garden of the Museo Bicknell. I quoted above from MARVELS "Clarence also planted two Moreton Bay figs (Ficus macrophylla), descended from the first specimen brought to Italy from Australia by Lord Howe." Now we read "The mysterious tree in the garden of the Bicknell museum in Bordighera: discovered a rare example of Apollonia barbujana. It is an endemic tree of the flora of Macaronesia, known as the ebony of the Canaries and widespread in the islands of the archipelago, with the exclusion of Lanzarote. The tree, whose age is estimated in over a hundred years, has remained hidden in the garden in the discreet company of the gigantic Ficus macrophylla (Australia), in close contact with a Lagunaria patersonia (Australia) and near a Casuarina equietifolia (New Zealand) and a contorted Australian Malaleuca".

I would urge researchers, especially those with new material like the Museo Bicknell's unpublished "Lotto 2017" collection of Clarence's diaries, letters and sketches, to make them available or to analyse them for details of the Australia/New Zealand trip. Otherwise, there is NO EVIDENCE Clarence went to Australia or New Zealand and such remarks should be taken out of displays and literature.

NEWS - Clarence Bicknell exhibition at Finale Ligure

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

exhibition finale poster 2019La mostra "Clarence Bicknell e la preistoria nel Finale" va dal 13 aprile al 3 novembre 2019. Leggi di più in inglese qui sotto.

The exhibition "Clarence Bicknell - rediscovering prehistory in Finale" runs from 13 April to 3 November 2019. Read about it in English below.

Clarence Bicknell (1842-1918) nella sua instancabile e poliedrica atti vità, prevalentemente di botanico e studioso di preistoria, si interessò del Finalese ed ebbe modo di soggiornarvi più volte negli anni '80 e '90 dell'Ottocento. Fu durante tali visite che ebbe modo di vedere le incisioni rupestri nell’area di Orco Feglino e di segnalarle all’amico geologo e paletnologo Arturo Issel. Proprio al rapporto tra questi due ricercatori si deve probabilmente la formazione della collezione di reperti preistorici del Finalese realizzata da Bicknell, allestita originariamente a Bordighera presso il suo museo.

La sua presenza nel territorio, in parti colare a Finalmarina, in Val Ponci e a Orco Feglino, è ricostruibile att raverso diversi documenti conservati sia nell'archivio dell'Isti tuto Internazionale di Studi Liguri a Bordighera, sia nei materiali di proprietà dei discendenti. Oltre ad alcune foto si segnalano alcuni acquerelli da lui realizzati con grande abilità nel 1880 a Finalmarina, che riproducono scorci dell'abitato, tra cui si riconoscono chiaramente parti colari della Fortezza di Castelfranco.

L’esposizione presso il Museo Archeologico del Finale (13 aprile-3 novembre 2019) presenterà - per la prima volta - diversi documenti, immagini e alcuni reperti archeologici, provenienti dalla Caverna delle Fate e dalla Grott a Pollera, della collezione Bicknell, dopo che la stessa, nel 1947, venne scorporata e parzialmente trasferita dalla sede centrale dell’Isti tuto Internazionale di Studi Liguri a Bordighera all’allora Civico Museo del Finale (oggi Museo Archeologico del Finale). Tali materiali vennero esposti in una sala inti tolata allo stesso Bicknell, insieme ad altri reperti preistorici provenienti da scavi ottocenteschi di Arturo Issel e Padre Giovanni Batti sta Amerano. La Sala Bicknell del Museo di Finale venne però presto smantellata, nei primi anni ‘50 del Novecento, per lasciare spazio ad un nuovo allesti mento dedicato agli scavi della missione archeologica italo-spagnola alla Caverna dei Pipistrelli allora appena conclusa. Da quel momento i reperti della Collezione Bicknell non sono mai più stati esposti al pubblico. La mostra sarà quindi l’occasione per ammirare crani d’orso delle caverne e altri resti faunisti ci, oltre a ceramiche del Neolitico, che Bicknell volle nella sua collezione per documentare la Preistoria del Finale.

Nel percorso espositivo, oltre ad aspetti biografi ci su Clarence Bicknell, saranno approfonditi diversi temi, tra i quali il suo interesse per le incisioni rupestri di Orco Feglino. Il Finalese fu una delle prime aree in Europa dove vennero scoperte incisioni preistoriche. Lo dimostra una lettera del 1898 inviata da Bicknell a Issel, massima autorità nella seconda metà dell’Ottocento per le ricerche preistoriche in Liguria, nella quale vengono segnalate le incisioni del Ciappo de Cunche.

Tra i diversi interessi colti vati da Bicknell ricopre un ruolo non secondario quello rivolto alla Botanica, in parti colare alla Floristi ca, che sviluppò sopratt utt o a parti re dagli anni Ottanta dell’Ott ocento. Nel corso delle sue esplorazioni in tutt a la Riviera ligure di Ponente e nella Costa Azzurra raccolse decine di migliaia di piante che determinò e conservò in forma di exsiccata componendo un grande Erbario Europeo formato da 247 pacchi, oggi custodito presso l’Università di Genova. Un secondo erbario, di minori dimensioni, riguarda invece la flora di Bordighera e di Sanremo, composto da oltre 16mila fogli ordinati in 52 pacchi, che sono conservati presso il Museo Bicknell di Bordighera. Da studioso estremamente scrupoloso applicò con la massima cura su tutti i fogli d’erbario i relati vi cartellini con nome della specie, luogo, data di raccolta e quota alti metrica: notizie che documentano con precisione la diffusione di oltre 2000 enti tà della flora vascolare sul territorio.

I visitatori della mostra allestita al Museo Archeologico del Finale, presentando il relati vo biglietto, avranno diritt o all’ingresso ridott o presso l’esposizione “Clarence Bicknell in the past for the future. Inter-relazioni” a Bordighera (IM), allesti ta nel presti gioso salone Mariani del Centro Nino Lamboglia e nel Museo fondato nel 1888 a Bordighera dallo stesso Bicknell. Viceversa, chi visiterà la sede espositi va di Bordighera riceverà, presentando il relativo biglietto, una riduzione sull’ingresso al Museo Archeologico del Finale e alla mostra “Clarence Bicknell e la Preistoria nel Finale: una riscoperta”.

Mostra a cura di: Daniele Arobba, Direttore del Museo Archeologico del Finale - Istituto Internazionale di Studi Liguri Andrea De Pascale, Conservatore del Museo Archeologico del Finale - Istituto Internazionale di Studi Liguri Daniela Gandolfi, Dirigente Archeologa - Istituto Internazionale di Studi Liguri.


Museo Archeologico del Finale, Chiostri di Santa Caterina, 17024 Finale Ligure SV, Italy


Clarence Bicknell (1842-1918) in his tireless and multifaceted activity, mainly of botanist and prehistoric scholar, became interested in the Finale area and was able to stay there several times in the 1980s and 1990s. It was during these visits that he was able to see the rock engravings in the area of ​​Orco Feglino and to report them to his geologist and palethnologist friend Arturo Issel. It is probably to the relationship between these two researchers that Bicknell's collection of prehistoric finds from Finale was probably created, originally set up in Bordighera at his museum.
Its presence in the territory, in particular in Finalmarina, in Val Ponci and in Orco Feglino, can be reconstructed through various documents preserved both in the archive of the International Institute of Ligurian Studies in Bordighera, and in the materials owned by the descendants. In addition to some photos there are some watercolors he made with great skill in Finalmarina in 1880, which reproduce glimpses of the inhabited area, among which we can clearly recognize some parts of the Castelfranco Fortress.

The exhibition at the Archaeological Museum of Finale (13 April-3 November 2019) will present - for the first time - various documents, images and some archaeological finds, from the Caverna delle Fate and from the Grott in Pollera, of the Bicknell collection, after which the same, in 1947, was spun off and partially transferred from the headquarters of the International Institute of Ligurian Studies in Bordighera to the then Civic Museum of the Finale (now the Archaeological Museum of the Finale). These materials were exhibited in a room enclosed by Bicknell himself, along with other prehistoric finds from the nineteenth-century excavations of Arturo Issel and Father Giovanni Batti is Amerano. The Bicknell Room of the Finale Museum, however, was soon dismantled, in the early 1950s, to make room for a new layout dedicated to the excavations of the Italo-Spanish archaeological mission to the Bats Cave which had just ended. Since that time the finds of the Bicknell Collection have never been exposed to the public again. The exhibition will therefore be the occasion to admire cave bear skulls and other faunist remains there, as well as Neolithic ceramics, which Bicknell wanted in his collection to document the Prehistory of the Final.

In the exhibition, in addition to biographical aspects of Clarence Bicknell, various themes will be explored, including his interest in Orco Feglino's rock engravings. The Finale was one of the first areas in Europe where prehistoric engravings were discovered. This is demonstrated by a letter dated 1898 sent by Bicknell to Issel, the highest authority in the second half of the nineteenth century for prehistoric research in Liguria, in which the engravings by Ciappo de Cunche are reported.

Among the various interests cultivated by Bicknell is a role that is not secondary to that addressed to Botany, in particular to the Floristas, which developed above all since the 1980s in the October period. During his explorations throughout the Ligurian Riviera di Ponente and on the Côte d'Azur he collected tens of thousands of plants which he determined and preserved in the form of exsiccata by composing a large European Herbarium consisting of 247 packages, now kept at the University of Genoa. A second herbarium, of smaller dimensions, concerns the flora of Bordighera and Sanremo, composed of over 16 thousand sheets ordered in 52 packages, which are kept at the Bicknell Museum in Bordighera. From an extremely scrupulous scholar, he applied with the utmost care on all the herbarium sheets the related cards with the name of the species, place, date of collection and high altitude metric: news that accurately document the spread of over 2000 entities of the vascular flora on the territory.

Visitors to the exhibition set up at the Archaeological Museum of the Finale, presenting their ticket, will be given either at the entrance reduced or at the “Clarence Bicknell in the past for the future. Inter-relations ”in Bordighera (IM), set up in the prestigious Mariani salon of the Centro Nino Lamboglia and in the Museum founded in 1888 in Bordighera by Bicknell himself. Vice versa, those who visit the exhibition center of Bordighera will receive, by presenting their ticket, a reduction on the entrance to the Archaeological Museum of the Finale and to the exhibition "Clarence Bicknell and the Prehistory in the Final: a rediscovery".

Exhibition curated by: Daniele Arobba, Director of the Archaeological Museum of Finale - International Institute of Ligurian Studies Andrea De Pascale, Conservator of the Archaeological Museum of the Finale - International Institute of Ligurian Studies Daniela Gandolfi, Archaeologist Manager - International Institute of Ligurian Studies.


EVENT - Clarence Bicknell in Private, 20th July 2019, Bordighera

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

We are delighted to announce an event on Saturday 20th July 2019 in the Museo Bicknell, Bordighera, starting at 17h30. I have entitled it

Clarence Bicknell in Private.


  • Projection of the acclaimed 18-minute film The Marvels of Clarence Bicknell
    Musings from me, Marcus Bicknell, Clarence’s great grand nephew,
    With images from the family collection
    Question and answer session, drinks

The extraordinary events which celebrated the centenary of the death of Clarence Bicknell showed off his botany, his work on the rock engravings, his art and his role in Bordighera from 1878 till 1918. Maybe it is time now to delve into why he was such an interesting person… was Clarence a scientific giant or a man with a lisp who left his family and his church to be on the Riviera? … was he an English parson who spent the first 38 years of his life with men, or the grey-haired and wise gentleman who famously spent much of his time on the coast and in the mountains with women? Mrs Fanshawe Walker; landlady, his avowed “best friend”, companion or more? What was the Baroness von Taube for him? Who was Alice Campbell who allegedly was with him at his last moments at Casterino and was buried alongside him? Did Alice exist? If she did exist, why would Margaret Berry, Clarence’s niece and self-appointed moral guardian, have erased every mention of her from the records?

And there are other questions like what moved Clarence, what led him forward through life and what motivated him to create so many artworks and artefacts... 43,000 pieces in total in universities and museums across Europe? What was his private life like and how did he relax? Why did he invest so much energy and money into creating care homes, hospitals and museums? Where did the money come from and how did it last a lifetime? Did he find fulfilment in being a vegetarian, a pacifist and an Esperantist? Why did he come to Bordighera, and were the reasons similar to those which bring foreigners to settle in Bordighera even now?

Are you, tonight, walking in Clarence’s emotional footsteps?

Marcus Bicknell, Clarence’s great grand-nephew and one of the six researchers for the 2018 biography MARVELS: The Life of Clarence Bicknell by Valerie Lester who, like Marcus, shares Clarence’s genes, thinks the English speakers of Bordighera are ready for a more in-depth discussion of Clarence’s personality.

The event will start with a projection of the acclaimed 18-minute film The Marvels of Clarence Bicknell in the evocative visual style of French director Rémy Masséglia. The film is nominated at the St.Martin Vesubie Mountain Film Festival the day before this talk. Marcus will talk with some visual support to try to answer these questions and will then throw the floor open to your further questions, comments and (if you read the book in advance) disagreements… surely!


clarence bicknell in private july2019 flyer c

You can download this A4 flyer in pdf here

Place: Museo Bicknell, via Via Romana 39, Bordighera, IM-18012. +39 0184.263694

Date and time: 17h30 Saturday 20th July 2019

Entry is free of charge, but please say your coming using the "events" feature on our two Facebook pages  and

Refreshments: to be confirmed

Organised by: Friends of the Riviera and the Clarence Bicknell Association by kind permission and with the cooperation of the Istituto Internazionale di Studi Liguri / Museo Bicknell.

Buy MARVELS the book from the Museo Bicknell or Amico Libro, Via Vittorio Emanuele II, 30, Bordighera or at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Marcus Bicknell, 14th June 2019

NEWS - Valerie Lester 1939-2019

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

valerie lester at boccanegraIt is with great sadness that we announce the death of Valerie Lester. Despite the quiet progression of metastasising melanoma since 2012 and the threat of imminent demise since 2017, Valerie continued to be largely symptom-free, and spent 2018 living life to the fullest - writing, travelling, laughing and loving. She succumbed peacefully in hospice care near her home in Hingham, Massachusetts, on Friday 7th June with her children Toby and Alison at her bedside.

By a master-stroke of planning and Valerie’s determination in completing such a daunting task, MARVELS: The Life of Clarence Bicknell, Botanist, Archaeologist, Artist was published in June of 2018, the centenary year. Events were held in Bordighera and Parma (Italy), Tende (France), Cambridge (England) and Hingham (USA) to launch the book and celebrate Clarence’s talent and output. In the last two years of this work, she and her closest family and friends knew she was under the threat of the cancer, but she delivered herself to her work and her life with extraordinary gusto, never once complaining or slacking.

We mourn the passing of a good friend, a bright intellect, a person full of life and a warm human being. She enriched the lives of everyone she touched and she leaves a rich legacy.

Please read Valerie's obituary which you can download in pdf here.

RESEARCH - Clarence Bicknell and Cypripedium calceolus

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

cypripedium calceolus 210b frauenschuh cIn anticipation of his lecture on Clarence Bicknell - A British Botanist in the Maritime Alps at the Annual Meeting of the European Botanical and Horticultural Libraries Group which takes place at Champex in Switzerland from 19 to 21 June 2019, Graham Avery has published a new paper today 5th June 2019 entitled Clarence Bicknell and Cypripedium calceolus. This paper can be downloaded in pdf form by clicking here.

Graham introduces the paper thus...

In his letter of 6 July 1899 to Emile Burnat, Clarence expresses vividly the complex emotions of a botanist on finding a rare plant for the first time. He describes his surprise, disbelief, instinctive bodily reaction, joy and pain: “I had a moment – several moments – of trembling, turning to right and left, not wanting to look, saying to myself perhaps it’s a dream”. He realises that the plant is Cypripedium calceolus, but he doesn’t want to say it to Burnat: “I mustn’t tell you today, for you know that great joy, like great pain, can hurt a lot, with too much emotion”. In this letter Clarence gives us a fascinating psychological insight into his passion for botany, and in his next letter to Burnat on 12 July 1899 he conveys his joy graphically by means of a splendid water-colour sketch of the plant.

Download the new paper here


Related papers by Graham Avery on the Clarence Bicknell web site include.

Burnat, Émile - "Cher Monsieur", Letters from Clarence (1886-1917) 2016 – Graham Avery
Burnat, Émile -The Film 2018 - Graham Avery
Burnat/Bicknell Nature Reserve in the Marguareis Natural Park 2017 - Graham Avery
Clarence Bicknell - Farrer, Reginald (1910)                                     2013 - Graham Avery
Fox, Aileen, at Fontanalba (1927-8)                                               2015 - Graham Avery
Hanbury Gardens and Clarence Bicknell 2016 - Graham Avery
Clarence Bicknell - Botanical Exchanges               2016 - Graham Avery
Clarence Bicknell - Botany and the Hanbury Gardens 2016 - Graham Avery
Clarence Bicknell - Bristol Botanists at the Casa Fontanalba           2017 - Graham Avery
Clarence Bicknell - Pimpinella bicknellii                                         2017 - Graham Avery
Clarence Bicknell - Iridomyrmex bicknelli (1898)                             2016 - Graham Avery

NEWS - 100 years of Clarence Bicknell in Alpidoc

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

a100 bicknell pdf image 285x150 cEnglish text below

Pubblichiamo, per gentile concessione dell’editore, un bell'articolo dedicato a Clarence Bicknell a firma del botanico Bruno Gallino, che ha voluto ricordarlo in occasione del centenario della morte.

Scarica l'articolo in pdf qui

L'articolo è stato pubblicato sul numero 100 della rivista Alpidoc, un quadrimestrale edito da Costarossa Edizioni per conto dell’associazione Le Alpi del Sole, che riunisce le quattordici sezioni del Club Alpino della provincia di Cuneo più quelle di Savona e Cavour.

Copia della rivista (96 pagine, 3,50 euro) può essere richiesta scrivendo una email a This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Le spese di invio postale per l’Italia ammontano a 1,50 euro; 7,50 euro per i paesi europei.

La passione che anima chi da oltre venticinque anni realizza la rivista emerge dalle parole che Enrica Raviola, curatrice della pubblicazione, mi ha inviato qualche mese fa. «Colgo l'occasione per esprimere a voi personalmente la mia profonda ammirazione e stima per Clarence Bicknell, nonché l'amore più profondo per gli stessi luoghi che egli ha amato. Un amore condiviso al punto che la sequenza iniziale del film Marvels (Clarence e l'alba tra le montagne) mi ha commosso fino alle lacrime ... Un sentimento di immedesimazione che solo chi ha percorso con l’anima quegli stessi luoghi può provare.».

a100 cover fronte e1548321967453 640x1024

Puoi vedere il film in inglese su e in italiano su


We publish today this excellent article about the 100 years of Clarence Bicknell by Bruno Gallino. We are honoured to have the permission from Enrica Raviola, the editor of Alpidoc.

Download the article, which is in Italian, in pdf here

The article was published in the number 100 of the magazine Alpidoc (96 pages, 3.50 euros, postage costs for Italy amount to 1.50 euros; € 7.50 for European countries.). We hope that this article will intrigue you and that you will purchase the actual magazine and subscribe to it every month. Alpidoc is a magazine that essentially stands on the passion of those who make it, and, unfortunately, passion does not make money. So please visit the web site or email them at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and take out a subscription.

The extent of their passion can be understood from the words Enrica sent to me in English a few months ago. "I take this opportunity to express to you personally my profound admiration and esteem for Clarence Bicknell, as well as the deepest love for the same places that he has loved. A love shared to the point that the initial sequence of the film Marvels (Clarence and dawn in the mountains) moved me to tears ... a feeling of empathy that comes to one whose soul has travelled to those same places to one who considers them home."   Thank you Enrica.

You can see the film in English at and in Italian at

EVENT - Festival Images et Montagnes, Saint Martin Vésubie 19 July 2019

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

clarence bicknell movie poster 2016 mediumThe brilliant 18-minute film about Clarence Bicknell has been selected for a prestigious film festival, 5e Festival Images et Montagnes, Saint Martin Vésubie (65km north of Nice in the mountains). We are so pleased for Rémy, the director, and for the super-amazed festival-goers who will see it for the first time. The screening will be at 15h on Friday 19 July.

5e Festival Images et Montagnes, Saint Martin Vésubie, du 19 au 21 Juillet 2019

remy marvelsLe Festival vient de confirmer la sélection du film "Les Merveilles de Clarence Bicknell" de Rémy Masséglia dans la programmation du Festival Images et Montagnes de l’association Hervé Gourdel qui aura lieu du Vendredi 19 au Dimanche 21 Juillet 2019. Le film sera projeté le vendredi 19 Juillet à 15h à la Médiathèque avec intervention de Rémy Masséglia, Marcus Bicknell et autres suite à la projection. Le Parc National du Mercantour qui fête ses 40 ans cette année sera partenaire du Festival.

NEWS - Importanti nuovi contributi al centenario Clarence Bicknell

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

Importanti nuovi contributi al centenario Clarence Bicknell

di Elisabetta Massardo, Gisella Merello e Daniela Gandolfi
... in lingua italiana

In vista del grande evento che questa domenica 24/3/2019 alle 11.30 al Museo Bicknell, noi abbiamo pubblicato alcuni importanti nuovi contributi al centenario Clarence Bicknell di Elisabetta Massardo, Gisella Merello e Dabniela Gandolfi ... in lingua italiana...


Nuove traduzioni italiane di importanti articoli sul nostro sito web Il lavoro è stato svolto su base volontaria, per amore di Clarence, da Elisabetta Massardo di Genova, fotografa e devota della flora alpina. Ci ha anche supportato nella preparazione di MARVELS: La vita di Clarence Bicknell di Valerie Lester con una superba fotografia del fiore che Clarence chiamava The Ancient King, Saxifraga florulenta.

Ringraziamo calorosamente Elisabetta per il suo lavoro e contiamo di poter pubblicare altre sue fotografie di fiori alpini con testi di accompagnamento.

l'Uomo, biografia     
l'Uomo,  gli scritti         
l'Uomo, la chiesa    
Il Botanico        
Artista, Arts and Crafts

Queste traduzioni, insieme a quelle che esistono già lì, rendono il sito web una risorsa ancora più importante per i ricercatori di lingua italiana e il pubblico in generale su Clarence Bicknell, le sue opere e il suo tempo. Attiriamo la vostra attenzione anche sulla pagina Documenti del sito web in cui circa 75 articoli su Clarence e sui suoi contemporanei, da esperti in ciascun campo, sono resi disponibili per intero, alcuni dei quali in italiano...


Siamo lieti di pubblicare oggi su un importante articolo su Bordighera ai tempi di Clarence Bicknell ... La famiglia reale britannica a Bordighera, i conti di Strathmore, la regina madre Elisabetta da bambina e la duchessa di Leeds della storica Gisella Merello. La tempistica della sua pubblicazione è utile perché Villa Etelinda, l’abitazione a Bordighera del bisnonno paterno dell'attuale regina Elisabetta II, sarà aperta al pubblico per le visite FAI questo domenica 24 marzo. La presenza della famiglia reale britannica a Bordighera era già conosciuta in passato, ma questa ricerca ben articolata di Gisella è la prima che riunisce tutti i dettagli e le fotografie nello stesso testo.L'articolo di Gisella Merello, disponibile nell'originale italiano, è anche stato tradotto in inglese, in modo da poter essere utilizzato come strumento informativo e promozionale per attrarre turisti ai tesori nascosti di Bordighera, rendendo più  interessante il loro soggiorno.


Siamo orgogliosi di poter pubblicare un articolo di un fan numero uno di Clarence Bicknell e responsabile del Museo Bicknell,  Dottssa. Daniela Gandolfi. Durante i cinque anni in cui i ricercatori dell'Associazione Clarence Bicknell lavoravano per preparare il centenario Clarence Bicknell 2018 e la biografia MARVELS – The Life of Clarence Bicknell di Valerie Lester, Daniela era stata per noi un costante sostegno mentre si prendeva cura delle sue principali responsabilità come archeologa e direttrice dell'Istituto Internazionale di Studi Liguri.

Tuttavia è per gli eventi del centenario, in particolare per la mostra al Museo Bicknell e al vicino Centro Nino Lamboglia, che ha lavorato in modo creativo e instancabile. La mostra, che ha presentato la nuova raccolta “Lotto 2017” di diari, foto e dipinti di Clarence, è stata ampiamente acclamata e viene prolungata a Bordighera. Una nuova mostra simile è stata inaugurata quest'anno a Finale Ligure, lungo la costa.L'articolo che pubblichiamo le fornisce un resoconto del centenario di Clarence ed è di per sé un prezioso contributo al patrimonio culturale immateriale che Clarence rappresenta per Bordighera e per i mondi più grandi delle comunità internazionali della Riviera e della scienza e dell'illuminazione alla fine del 19 ° secolo. Allo stesso tempo abbiamo pubblicato l'articolo scritto nel 2016 da Bruna de Paoli e Daniela Gandolfi su Clarence Bicknell per la conferenza “La Vita e le Opere” de Bicknell (Colligite fragmenta 2, Atti del Convegno Bordighera 2016, pp. XX-XX)

NEWS - Graham Avery at the European Botanical and Horticultural Libraries Group

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

Graham Avery (Vice Chairman of the Clarence Bicknell Association and author of excellent papers on our web site) will give a lecture on 'Clarence Bicknell - A British Botanist in the Maritime Alps' at the Annual Meeting of the European Botanical and Horticultural Libraries Group which takes place at Champex in Switzerland from 19 to 21 June 2019.

Graham discovered that the Conservatoire et Jardin Botaniques de la Ville de Genève has in its archives of scientific correspondence a collection of letters written by Clarence Bicknell (1842-1918) to the Swiss botanist Emile Burnat (1828-1920). This archive of about 690 documents (including postcards) from the period 1886-1917 gives much information on Clarence Bicknell’s life, his botanical activity, and his research into the prehistoric rock art of the Maritime Alps. Graham anlysed and transcribed these letters and they provided valuable insight into Clarence for Valerie Lester when writing MARVELS. These letters provide more in the biography of Clarence's "voice" than any other source.

Graham's work with the Conservatoire and its Principal Librarian Pierre Boillat, and his skills in botany and history, have led to this invitation to speak at such an important conference. The event is closed to the public but enquiries can be made of the organisers.

News - Opening of the new entrance under the giant ficus tree to the garden of the Museo Bicknell in Bordighera

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .


Read a short report of the opening ceremony

Report in English e in italiano

Read the speech given in Italian by Marcus Bicknell (Chairman of the Clarence Bicknell Association) at the opening ("L'apertura di questo giardino testimonia il desiderio dell'uomo di rispettare e proteggere il nostro patrimonio culturale immateriale").

Speech in English e in italiano


RESEARCH - the archaeology of Jules Masson-Mourey

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

We are delighted to publish two papers by the archaeologist Jules Masson Mourey and we thank him for his permission to do so.

The first, from December 2017 is on the curious phenomenon of rock engravings of humans with their feet turned inwards, pieds bots in French, and their occurrence in real life. Download the pdf here.

anthropmorphes3anthropmorphes2Thanthropmorphes1e second is brand new, 2019, from the International Newsletter On Rock Art ( INORA, 2019, N° 83), on Key Hole figures and ZigZag Arm anthropomorphs (Les figures "en trou de serrure" et de l'"Anthropomorphe aux bras en zigzag") in the Vallée des Merveilles. Download the pdf here.

Jules Masson Mourey
<This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Doctorant contractuel, Aix Marseille Univ, CNRS, Minist Culture, LAMPEA, Aix-en-Provence, France


In Clarence's Time - his father and Turner

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

Gisella Merello kindly sent me snippets of the mention of Elhanan Bikcknell, Clarence's father, in the biography of Milais by his son. Interesting to read so clearly that Turner "disliked society, and was intimate with very few people, his principal friends being Mr. Bicknell of Denmark Hill, and Munro of Novar, though at times he frequented the Athenaeum Club".

The story about the Count d'Orsay (referred to in just a few words in the book) is a good one. I covered it some time ago because I have an original print of the picture in question. Read

In Clarence's Time - Dr John Goodchild, the Blue Bowl, Bordighera and Glastonbury

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

clarence bicknell movie poster 2016MAN OF MARVELS – CLARENCE BICKNELL was the title of the talk by Renchi Bicknell given to The Glastonbury Positive Living Group on November 15th 2018. But the material on Dr John Goodchild of Glastonbury and general practitioner in Bordighera, the BlueBowl, which many claimed is the Holy Grail, and the relationsip with Clarence Bicknell makes fascinating reading.

Renchi Bicknell is the great grand nephew of Clarence Bicknell. He is the son of Peter Bicknell, Cambridge architect and lecturer, who looked after the Bicknell collection of Clarence Bicknell books and drawings until his death in 1995, and who wrote in 1988 a mini-biography Clarence published on the web site.  Renchi is an artist and writer living in Glastonbury  with his wife Vanessa. His approach to life and his spirituality put Renchi in an ideal position to assimilate Clarence Bicknell’s character and soul. His portrayal of Clarence in the 2016 film documentary The Marvels of Clarence Bicknell by French director Remy Masseglia was therefore more than convincing; his resemblance to Clarence is also uncanny (movie poster, right).

With this in mind, this account of Clarence and Dr Goodchild of Bordighera and Glastonbury takes on a powerful significance. Is this what Clarence would have believed about the Blue Bowl? It is certainly a more emotively told story than laying out academic research.

At the evening in Glastonbury, Renchi addressed a crowd of the faithful, mostly those who live with, and communicate, the beliefs concerning Glastonbury, Joseph, the Holy Grail, the Blue Bowl, the Chalice Well and the Tor. The audience found themselves involved with the subject not just with the projection of the film and Renchi’s text, but also with silences, exploration of the mind, an imaginary walk up the Val Fontanalba and hands-on experience of rubbing the rock engraving reliefs reproduced in wood for the occasion. Of the forty events during Clarence Bicknell’s 2018 Centenary this was the most characterful. 

The pdf version of Renchi's paper, with illustrations of Goodchild and his Blue Bowl, can be downloaded here.

In the footsteps of Clarence Bicknell - Peradeniya Gardens

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

peradeniya group jan2019In the footsteps of Clarence Bicknell
At the Peradeniya Gardens in Kandy, Sri Lanka.  

Monday 14th January 2019

Dr  Shelomi A. Krishnarajah, (Director General, Sri Lanka Department of National Botanic Gardens) and senior colleagues welcomed Marcus and Susie Bicknell at the National Herbarium today. 20 executives and scientists of the Peradeniya Gardens watched the film “The Marvels of Clarence Bicknell “ and heard a talk on Clarence Bicknell’s botany and art.

The discussion then covered his visit here in January 1908, the publication of historic botanical watercolours, the international networks of herbarium exchanges and the worldwide reputation of the Peradeniya Gardens (whose 200th anniversary will be celebrated in 2022) then and now.

The Bicknell family presented to the Peradeniya Gardens copies of the new biography of Clarence Bicknell “Marvels” and of his illustrated “Casa Fontanalba Visitors’ Book”. Dr Krishnarajah presented the Bicknells with copies of their new collection of botanical illustrations by three generations of the De Alwis Seneviratne family.

Photo left to right:
Mr. M. M. D. J. Senaratna (Deputy Director (Floriculture Research);
Dr. Subhani Ranasingh (Deputy Director, National Herbarium);
Ms. Chandrika Jayaweera (Director Development, Department of National Botanic Gardens);
Susie Bicknell (researcher at the Clarence Bicknell Association);
Dr  Shelomi A. Krishnarajah, (Director General, Sri Lanka Department of National Botanic Gardens);
Dr Achala Attanayake (Deputy Director Royal Botanic Gardens Sri Lanka and Curator of the Peradeniya Gardens);
Marcus Bicknell (Chairman of the Clarence Bicknell Association and Clarence’s great grand nephew).

peradeniya discussion jan2019

peradeniya shelomi marcus susie jan2019









Note: The British botanist Clarence Bicknell visited the Royal Botanic Garden at Peradeniya in 1908 at the invitation of J.C. Willis the Director. This visit, and Bicknell's voyage round Sri Lanka, features in MARVELS, the new biography of Clarence Bicknell by Valerie Lester. The excerpt from the book is at and in pdf at

peradeniya garden 1908

peradeniya location

The photo of the gardens with yellow borders is the approximate location of the black and white photo of the Peradeniya Gardens in Clarence's time.


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