MARVELS – The Life of Clarence Bicknell

MARVELS: The Life of Clarence Bicknell,
Botanist, Archaeologist, Artist.   
By Valerie Lester

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A treasure trove of research discoveries enlightens Valerie Lester’s biography of the captivating scientist and artist, Clarence Bicknell. Over 5 years, Lester pored over hundreds of newly-discovered letters, botanical watercolours and arts-and-crafts designs in archives including the Natural History Museum, the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, the Conservatoire Botanique in Geneva and Genoa University. Every letter and diary entry provided Lester with Clarence’s voice; and each of his vellum-bound albums revealed drawings, watercolours and whimsical creations. The biography’s text, supported by more than 200 images, gives remarkable insights into how and why this man strove for perfection in each subject he tackled.

Clarence was a product of the late-Victorian Enlightenment, of the desire to understand our world and the quest to express it all creatively. Having lived for forty years in Bordighera on the Italian coast and spent summers at Casterino by the Vallée des Merveilles, now in France, he is a respected historical figure on both the French and Italian sides of the Riviera and the Maritime Alps. The irrepressible former clergyman dedicated himself first to botany, then archaeology in the high mountains and, towards the end of his life, to botanical art tinged with the whimsy of humour, narrative, affection for his friends and arts-and-crafts originality.

Valerie Lester was an independent scholar, writer, and translator living near Boston. She wrote Fasten Your Seat Belts! History and Heroism in the Pan Am Cabin (1995) and Phiz, The Man Who Drew Dickens (2004) and a biography of the great Italian typographer: Giambattista Bodoni: His Life and His World.  She translated Alain-Fournier’s Le Grand Meaulnes with the title: The Magnificent Meaulnes (2009).

Published by Matador Books on  28 June 2018. Distributor: Orca Book Services. Tel: 01235 465521. Email: Thema subject category : AGNB – Botanical art. Hardback 260 x 185 mm 256 pp Portrait. 212 images, full colour throughout. ISBN 9781789014945. Matador is an imprint of Troubador Books, Tel: 0116 279 2299, Email:, in cooperation with the estate of Clarence Bicknell and the Clarence Bicknell Association

The team of researchers is thanked by Valerie Lester thus… “I owe my deepest debt to the team which helped me put this book together. We are six: Marcus Bicknell, the driving force; Susie Bicknell, researcher, specialising in Clarence’s art; Graham Avery, mountain walker, botanist, writer and researcher; Helen Blanc-Francard, landscape designer, writer, picture researcher; Christopher Chippindale, archaeologist, author and Clarence specialist; and myself, the principal writer. Biography is usually a lonely profession, but being a part of this team took care of that. Its members offered me encouragement when my spirits flagged and new material when I got stuck. I cannot imagine working with a kinder, more competent, more supportive group of people. The extraordinary work done by the book’s editor, designer and production director, Sally Salvesen, along with maps by Martin Brown, the family tree by Gwyneth Hibbert and the index by Nick Humez, make the finished article a volume of which we can all be proud.”

In stock at the Clarence Bicknell Association at a privileged price of £10 (approx €11.50 or $12.75) by transfer, PayPal or card at