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Botanical art

Books on botanical art

The definitive work on botanical illustration is The Art of Botanical Illustration by Wilfrid Blunt and William Stearn published in 1950: it is compulsory reading for anyone interested in botanical illustration – it defines the genre and places it firmly within a historical context and tradition.

Several overviews of botanical art in Australia have been published, the most comprehensive being Helen Hewson’s Australia: Three Hundred years of Botanical Illustration first published in 1999, also her synoptic account in The Oxford Companion to Australian Gardens.[2] Capturing Flora: 300 Years of Australian Botanical Art is a brief but beautifully illustrated account published in association with an exhibition mounted in 2012 at the Art Gallery of Ballarat which has accumulated a fine collection of botanical art that compares well with works held at Australia’s botanical gardens and National Library.[1]

Technology associated with plant imagery

Creating shared images of the objects we perceive has depended not only on inner creative inspiration following all manner of fashions and styles, it has also been crucially dependent on the (materials and technology) that have been available to do the job.

Earliest animal images

The southern region of Sulawesi is rich in rock art, with the first examples uncovered in the 1950s. These paintings are dated using uranium-series, from the uranium that is present in calcite layers covering the images. The oldest paintings in Europe date to about 40,000 years. However, animals in a hunting scene are about 43,900 years old. Sulawesi Warty Pigs (Sus celebensis) are endemic to the island and rock art depictions first found in 2017 in a cave called Leang Tedongnge in a secluded valley near the city of Makassar constitute the oldest known fully-formed animal rock art at least 45,500 years old. Even though the paper used just one dating technique, the results were consistent with other analyses from the surrounding area.[7]

Art of Australia’s First People

Australian Aboriginal art, which varies in style from one region to another, is among the oldest known human imagery generally performed with a finger, a contrived brush, by blowing paint from the mouth around an object such as a hand (stenciling) or by engraving using a pounding or ‘pecking’ technique. It was often used as a way to celebrate, transmit knowledge, techniques and stories, to maintain identity and culture with ochre often found in the oldest archaeological sites and associated with cremation and ochred inhumation. Although many thousands of sites appear on state registers, beyond that they are poorly recorded and conservation and interpretation is a difficult and controversial matter. Though much rock art seems to reflect the Dreaming and relationship to the land it is mostly animals that are featured, including megafauna that are now extinct.

Traditional art-designs were based on lines, dots, repeated geometric patterns, and free-form curves were influenced by clan group, country, stories, ceremonies and totems. Diagrams of animals and fish from Kakadu, called X-ray paintings, indicated internal structures and rock engravings (petroglyphs) consisted mostly of circle patterns and symbols of animal tracks.

The colour palette consisted mostly of earthy reds, browns, and yellows and well as black and white, each colour rich in meaning. For example white was mostly a ceremonial colour of mourning and strife used, for example, at funerals and initiations though occasionally as a war paint; red was associated with energy and strong emotion as well as the spirit world and as a colour associated with man the warrior.

Red, yellow and Brown pigments were derived from iron-rich minerals with haematite by far the most commonly used, and white from kaolin clays. Charcoal was used as charred wood or ground into a paint. These pigments were used on various implements notably weapons (clubs, shields and boomerangs), with bold use of red and white ochres. Work on rock, sheets of bark used to build houses, skin cloaks, and carved on trees would include human figures, hand silhouettes made by spitting ochre around the hand, human and animal figures and other symbols. Baskets used reeds of different colours woven into repeating patterns. Surprisingly although plants were necessary for the construction of many of the artefacts used in daily life they did not feature highly in the art works themselves.

The world’s earliest rock art is found at Carpenter’s Gap in Australia’s Kimberley region and has been dated to at least 42,700 BP, pre-dating the 32,000 year old palaeolithic cave paintings of Western Europe by at least 10,000 years. It depicts animals, humans and yams, this being the first known pictorial representation of plants by Homo sapiens and, amazingly, it is found on the other side of the world from where Homo sapiens evolved. The earliest European representational art is found in the Chauvet Cave in the Ardèche region of France and dates to about 32,000 BP (Flood, p. 178). However, the methods for dating rock art, though highly sophisticated, still remain controversial and the dating of Australian rock art to the Palaeolithic remains doubtful.[1]

Prior to this discovery the earliest illustrations in Australia were the anthropomorphic yam people at Deaf Adder Creek.

A pastoralist named Joseph Bradshaw while searching for new pasture discovered some unique rock art galleries on 16 April 1891, now known as Gwion Gwion, a name used by the local Ngarinyin people of the north-west Kimberley. Dated to about 26,500 and 20,000 BCE the elegant ‘sash’, ‘tassel’ and ‘clothes-peg’ clothed human silhouettes that are extremely unusual and controversial.

With the arrival of Europeans a wide range of new materials were used in the making of artefacts and artworks and Aboriginal artworks now form part of business enterprises and are used to express political and social views and often incorporate elements of Western art.

Origins of European botanical art

The origins of botanical art are hinted at in the rock art of Aboriginals, representations of wheat in the tombs of Egyptians. In Egypt the earliest plant portrait is of a date palm completed before 3200 BCE while awned wheat and barley were carved on monuments dating to around 3000 BCE. Plant illustrations found in colourful frescoes in Egyptian tombs at around this time are also present in art work of Mesopotamia which included dates, vines, and cereals.[9]

Botanical historian Alan Morton notes how Theophrastus, the ‘Father of Botany’, respected the work of his contemporary, the physician Diocles whose work on medicinal plants was accepted as the standard text of the day. The most notable Greek herbalist was Crateuas (fl. 120-60 BCE), court physician to King Mithridates VI of Pontus. Crateuas wrote Rhizotomikon, a treatise on botanical pharmacology which, along with work by Diocles, no doubt served as a key source for later works by both Pliny and Dioscorides. As a supplement to the Rhizotomikon Crateuas supplied painted illustrations with descriptions of medicinal properties of the plants. Pliny claims Crateuas as the originator of botanical illustration among the Greeks who included Metrodorus and Dionysius. Morton states that ‘… the content and even the form of botanical writing for well over a thousand years can be directly linked with the herbal of Crateuas, and through him to the herbal knowledge of Diocles and Theophrastus.’[2]

Codex Vindobonensis Med. Gr. 1., the earliest surviving illustrated botanical work, is a copy of Dioscorides’s de Materia Medica made in the year 512 for Fuliana Anicia, daughter of the former Western Roman emperor Olybrius. Made by copying earlier works, it was seen by Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecg, the ambassador from the court of Ferdinand I to Suleiman the Magnificent, in 1562. Seven years later, the manuscript found its way into the Imperial Library at Vienna, but no one knows
whether the purchaser was Busbecq or the emperor Ferdinand. After the First World War, the codex was seized by the Italians and removed to Venice, but was later returned to Austria. The book contains nearly 400 full-page paintings of plants. The styles of some suggest they were derived from illustrations dating back to the second century AD.[8]

In about 512 CE the townsfolk of Honorata, a district of Constantinople, presented their imperial patron Juliana Anicia, the wife of a Consul, with a 491 page illustrated book containing copies of 383 of Dioscorides herbs for presenting them with a Christian Church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It is the earliest surviving Greek herbal and one of the earliest surviving and most magnificent of plant books which, by a circuitous route, has eventually found its way into the Imperial Library of Vienna.[Pavord, p. 84]

Plant art is also evident in early Egyptian Papyrus, and the elaborate floral mosaics of the ancient Romans while accurate plant depictions were produced first in late 14th century Renaissance Italy but also in printed Herbals, notably the Herbarum Vivae Eicones (Living Portraits of Plants) authored by Otto Brunfels and skillfully illustrated by Hans Weiditz in the German High Renaissance of 1530. After the era of Herbals, illustrations executed with extreme finesse and exactitude as the botanical treasures brought back to the new European botanic gardens from foreign lands during the Age of Discovery and the beautiful precision of paintings by Linnaeus’s German botanical artist Georg Ehret (1708–1770).[5]

Herbal art

Although representations of images of organisms date back thousands of years. Among the first herbals which were manuscripts produced on scrolls or bound into codices, were drawings and paintings of plants. When printed herbals appeared in Europe they were illustrated with woodcuts (xylograph), metal-engraved plates not appearing until about 1580.[17] However, it was only in the 16th century that flower painting became an art form in Europe and botanical drawing, usually for wealthy patrons, began in the early 17th century.

Foundations of modern era botanical art

From the time of its opening in 1640 the Jardin du Roi in Paris was a European focus for plant devotees including artists and artisans – but formal art did not begin there until the appointment of artist Nicolas Robert (1614-1684) peintre ordinaire du Roi, which became a permanent position. They were to paint subjects according to strict instructions with an emphasis on exact representation.

Dutch flower painters

Painters of the Dutch Golden Age presage the later Enlightenment linking of plant collectors, botanic gardens, and natural scientists, especially botanists and horticulturists, associated more with France and England. Their influence on later European and Australian painters cannot be ignored.
Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750)(see Wikipedia entry) was an outstanding still life and flower painter from the Northern Netherlands whose work was surpassed only by that of Jan van Huysum (1682-1749) who elevated flower painting to a new level.

In 1679, at age fifteen, Ruysch was apprenticed to Willem van Aelst, a prominent flower painter in Amsterdam. His studio in Amsterdam looked out over the studio of the flower painter Maria van Oosterwijck’. Rachel knew the flower painters Jan and Maria Moninckx, Alida Withoos and Johanna Helena Herolt-Graff, all of a similar age and who worked for Agnes Block who owned a country estate on the Vecht river in Loenen replete with curiosities and gardens stocked with special exotic plants. Like her father they also with the plant collectors Jan and Caspar Commelin.

She was the daughter of scientist Frederik Ruysch a professor of anatomy and botany whose animal skeletons, mineral, and botanical specimens provided stimulus for her drawing. She also knew Otto Marseus van Schrieck especially for his work for the Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam where her father did business. She painted for six decades as she produced ten children.

Jan Commelin (1629-1692) was professor of botany when plants were being imported from the Cape and Ceylon and he assisted in the instigation of a new Botanic garden in Amsterdam, the Hortus Medicus (later Hortus Botanicus). Accumulating a small fortune selling herbs and drugs to apothecaries and hospitals in Amsterdam and other Dutch cities he built up a large collection of exotic plants on his estate ‘Zuyderhout’ near Haarlem.

Commelin facilitated the publication of Hendrik van Rheede’s Hortus Malabaricus (1678-1693) dealing with the medicinal plants of the Indian state of Kerala, and Nederlandse Flora (1683). He also prepared Horti Medici Amstelodamensis Rariorum (1697) which described plants of the East and West Indies presumably collected during the operations of the Dutch East India Company. The book was illustrated by Jan Moninckx and his daughter Maria Moninckx.

Jan’s nephew Caspar Commelin (1667-1734) became the director of the Amsterdam botanic garden following Pieter Hotton. Caspar finished the work of his uncle and had it published with the help of Rachel’s father Frederik Ruysch.

Golden age of scientific illustration

Botanical illustration art was perhaps the finest emanation of the optimism and freshness of the European romance with plants that reached its zenith in a century that lasted from about 1750 to 1850, a period spanning the discovery and blooming of the world’s last non-Europeanised continent. Though we have today some of the world’s most talented botanical illustrators ever, we cannot possibly recapture the vibrancy of the forces that combined in the Botanophilia of the Enlightement.

From the 17th century paintings of floral arrangements had accumulated in the collections of Europes nobility. Europeans and especially France and Britain were reaching out into new and exciting realms of both the geographic world and the world of ideas and plants were at the centre. Though geographic exploration enjoyed its swashbuckling brigands, adventurers, and the inquisitive and scientifically-minded collectors, there were almost always economic and political motives lurking in the shadows. Botanical art was different. It was a simple celebration of the beauty of nature as manifested through its supreme representative, the flower. It was the human mind at play, enjoying a one-ness with the natural world untainted by the demands of practical affairs. Of course plants and flowers had been enjoyed by artists from the earliest times but now there was the supplemental Enlightenment desire for precision and scientific truth.
It was a movement with a momentum provided by the new plant discoveries pouring into Europe, a rising affluent middle class and upper class obsessed by botany and horticulture that could take advantage of the vastly improved printing techniques of engraving, especially stipple engraving which facilitated the use of colour by imparting a new luminescence, and lithography combined with handcolouring, and wider publication of well-illustrated books.
Botanical art produced in this period is among the finest that will ever be produced. There is a simple honesty in this work that has instant appeal. The flourishes of artistic ego might capture some special quality in a flower that we have failed to appreciate before, but botanical art attempts to recreate the flower as it ‘actually is’, while the beauty speaks for itself. The supreme craftsmanship required cannot be hidden as this is art that is spare, honest and direct: it is art requiring a precision of craftsmanship that can be directly and immediately appreciated and evaluated by all people of all ages. It is inclusive art that cannot hide in an exclusive complex of aesthetic ideas and movements.

[For magazines featuring plant illustration see Horticultural literature]. This was a tradition that was to reach its height as a golden age in the 18th and early 19th centuries as artists joined scientists on voyages of scientific exploration and artists were employed in most of the major botanic gardens of Europe, their work embellishing assorted books, prints and catalogues. It was one of the few aspects of science that was open to women. At the end of the 18th century the Jardin du Roi escaped the more destructive aspect of the Revolution to become the Jardin des Plantes associated with the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle where 12 professorships on identical salary were introduced, one of these chairs being in Natural Iconography. It was he appointee, Van Spaendonck, who not only produced “botanical vellums” but appointed talented young students among whom were flower painter Pierre-Joseph Redouté (who he taught both water colour painting on vellum and stipple-engraving, an improvement on line-engraving) and his younger brother Henri-Joseph Redouté (1766–1852) who was to paint reptiles and fish. This pair, who had been former fashionable painters to the wealthy and powerful, became post-Revolutionary professional biological illustrators for the Museum’s scientific staff.

[techniques that became more widely used included copperplate engraving and colour printing, lithography was invented in 1797, and woodcutting became more sophisticated and detailed]

Georg Ehret

Among the early works of botanical artists to achieve recognition were the illustrations of German flower painter Georg Ehret (1701–1770) which featured in Linnaeus’s Hortus Cliffortianus (1738) probably the most attractive of his many publications. Ehret, (like the Bauer brothers) moved to England to work, and became a fellow of the Royal Society. Works like this laid the foundation for what historian of botanical art, Wilfred Blunt, has called the golden century of great flower books, a period extending from 1760 to 1860.

The eight plant illustrations in Dampier’s work A Voyage to New Holland (1703) are the first published drawings of Australian flora and fauna with the artist unknown. The plant descriptions published in 1705 by Leonard Plukenet also carried illustrations which were copper engravings of drawings by J. Collins.

Enlightenment botany & illustration
In the excitement of the Enlightenment voyages of scientific discovery, the desire to record and order all the new organisms being discovered both for science and the general public, the accurate depiction of natural history specimens was an integral part of this phenomenon.

Fisher, C. 2013. The Golden Age of Flowers: Botanical Illustration in the Age of Discovery 1600-1800. The British Library: London

First illustrations of Australian plants
Even though it was a copper plate engraving of the Sturt’s Desert Pea in a French edition of Dampier’s A Voyage to New Holland was the first published illustration of a New Holland plant it was with the flood of work stimulated by the voyage of the Endeavour that we see the true birth of botanical illustration. This voyage was a society phenomenon in the conversation of European society and it was fuelled by the publication of travelogues and the production of quality ’coffee-table’ appropriately scientifically accurate illustrated magazines and books for the cognoscenti . Of course there were also the special scientific publications produced by the many scientific societies that were being set up across Europe during the Enlightenment.

England was enjoying an exceptional period of plant illustration. Among the most outstanding works of the day was The Pomona Britannica (1812) of George Brookshaw (1751-1823) which recorded in fine detail the fruits to be found in the gardens of London at the time, and in particular the Royal Gardens at Hampton Court and, possibly one of the greatest works of all time, The Temple of Flora (1799-1807) with 33 exquisite folio paintings of plants in their natural settings by a group of England’s most outstanding plant illustrators and engravers, published by Robert Thornton (c. 1768-1837.[4]

The botanical tour de force of the Endeavour voyage was to be a grand account of the voyage, a Florilegium to be published by Banks and containing 738 superb illustrations by the unfortunate young Quaker artist Sydney Parkinson who died on the return leg of the voyage. Sadly this was not to appear until the 1980s but illustrations of plants lovingly coaxed into bloom from seed collected from this and later voyages soon appeared, to be devoured by an eager public. For an even wider public there was The Naturalist’s Pocket Magazine or Compleat Cabinet of the Curiosities and Beauties of Nature (1799-1802) which included many new discoveries including pictures of New Holland plants by unknown artists.

There was some compensation later when Banks sent out the Investigator complete with Austrian Ferdinand Bauer who produced about 1,500 drawings that were reproduced in various publications including his own.

Germany, Spain, France
In Germany there was the highly popular publication by botanist Joseph Gaertner, De Fructibus et Seminibus Plantarum of 1788-92 which contained 180 engravings of flowers and plant structures collected in South Africa and on Cook’s first voyage.

A Spanish scientific voyage under the command of Alessandro Malaspina with botanist Luis Née had collected at Botany Bay in ?(see ) and some of these studies, including engravings of Banksia oblongifolia, were illustrated by Antonio Cavanilles the Director of the Real Jardino Botanico in Madrid in his Icones et Descriptiones Plantarum Cultarum et Colendarum (1791-1801).[Jones-O’Neill, J. Curious Cones and Gigantic Lyllies: Early Encounterswith the Australia Flora, in Cultivating Flora pp. 42,48]

However, it was the French who in many ways eclipsed the English in their exploratory voyages to New Holland under the commands of La Perouse, D’Entrecasteau, Baudin, Bougainville and D’Urville (see ). From Baudin’s voyage there was published in 1800 botanist Labillardiéres Relation du Voyage de Recherche de La Pérouse which included plates by the renowned Pierre-Joseph Redouté. This appeared in 1800 and its translation into English would certainly have drawn attention to the lack of an English equivalent for the Endeavour with Redouté’s illustrations of Eucalyptus being the first for this genus. His work also appears in the vast second edition of Traite des Arbres que l’on Cultive en France en Pleine Terre published between 1800 and 1825 which included 498 engravings[Jones-O’Neill p. 52], 496 of these were printed in colour and finished by hand, ranking among the world’s most outstanding dendrological works. The first 2-volume edition appeared in Paris in 2 volumes in 1755 with woodcuts from blocks made by Mattioli, which Duhamel du Monceau had acquired but the Traite … known as the “Nouveau Duhamel” with a print run of 1,000 issued in 83 parts. About 30 different engravers were involved for the printing of the beautiful plates, of which 463 are after drawings by P.J. Redouté, and 33 after P. Bessa.

Josephine was an avid student of botany and followed the explorations keenly, starting with Cook’s voyages. The French expeditions provided her with the opportunity to get plants first hand, rather than paying large sums of money to obtain them from Britain, notably from the Vineyard nursery of Lee and Kennedy and her garden set out in the popular English style (a l’Anglais)(see Josephine Bonaparte). Plants growing on her estates were illustrated …

Voyages of Dumont ’Urville
Following the initial series of French explorations from … to … After the Napoleonic Wars France set out on a second series of voyages, foremost among these being that of Dumont D’Urville a cartographer with a botanical background. Plant specimens returned to France from his South Seas voyage numbered between 5,000 to 6,000.[cited in Jones-O’Neill p. 69] Notable among these were many illustrations of seaweed collections made on the Coquille and published in several volumes. They were identified by botanist Jean-Baptiste Saint-Vincent and engraved by Pierre Barrois.
This voyage followed up by a second to the Southern Ocean in L’Astrolabe a former ship of the La Pérouse expedition and this voyage had the additional intriguing assignment of reconoitring a possible site for a French penal settlement, although circumstances meant that this was not followed through. This poorly reported voyage brought back remains of the La Pérouse expedition found on the Santa Cruz islands where it had been wrecked in … and an entire volume dedicated to botanical engravings. [Jones O’Neill p.69]

D’Urville’s third and final voyage involved the area to the north and west of Australia and down to the Antarctic, this time in L’Océanie, the botanical engravings from this voyage producing some of the finest and most intricate engraving work ever produced such as the Aralia polaris collected on Macquarie Island. For art historian Jennifer Jones-O’Neill the illustrationsproduced from these voyages represent the height and scope of botanical illustration representing some of its finest artistic achievements.[Jones-O’Neill p.74] .

Settlers artists

Early settlers were aware of the significance of their arrival on a new continent so they kept journals and made paintings and sketches of what they saw. Many of these works of art remain, stored in the National Library, without any record of their creators.[6]

John White, Surgeon with the First Fleet published an illustrated Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales in 1790 containing 65 plates of natural history specimens, including plants, the book being translated into French, German, and Swedish. Of the English illustrated magazines there was …. (see later) Drawings returned to London were worked on by various artists including Frederick Nodder, artist to Queen Charlotte (wife of George III).[George, p. 1]

John Lewin (1770-1819) was the first professional artist to arrive in New Holland as a free man , his illustrations though of a high botanical standard, were derived from the broader painting tradition. Among his better known works are several studies of the Gymea Lily. [Jones-O’Neillpp.60,64] Painter John Lewin (1770-1819) was commissioned for paintings of Gymia Lily, c. 1810, for Palmer in India. One of the Waratah c. 1806 was commissioned for Elizabeth Macarthur and Allan Cunningham noted that it was Lewin’s paintings that adorned the walls of the more impressive rooms in Government House.

William Gould (1803-1853) was a later arrival and a convict who arrived in 1827. Though a difficult person moved around to different assignments and supervisors his botanical illustrations were high standard.

Banks and the Linnean Society.
References in Cultivated Flora.

Cook’s voyages
Sydney Parkinson
Sydney Parkinson, a Scottish Quaker who had previously worked for Banks, was chosen as the natural history painter. Banks had included Parkinson on the team of naturalists on the Endeavour on the recommendation of James Lee of Hammersmith, on an annual salary of £80. Like other artists before him Parkinson made colour-coded sketches of his Australian plants subjects but he tragically died at sea aged 25 after the ship’s crew contracted dysentery and malaria in the port of Batavia (Jakarta) on the way back to England. Altogether he completed 269 plant paintings, with 673 incomplete and 268 drawings of animals. Despite Banks’ intention to produce a florilegium with descriptions by Solander his work was published much later and in black ink only in 1900–1905 and an exquisite set of coloured impressions in 1981–1988, completed March 1989. During the fortnight in Botany Bay Parkinson was able to complete 94 botanical sketches.

The great Florilegium of his work, some completed by himself and others by artists contracted later, was finally published in 1988 as Banks’s Florilegium by Alecto Historical Editions in 35 volumes and has since been digitized by the Natural History Museum in London.

James Sowerby
Between 1793 and 1795 Publication of Englishman James Smith’s A Specimen of the Botany of New Holland illustrated by James Sowerby: the first book devoted to New Holland flora.

[Australia’s pioneer as Ferdinand Bauer was for botanical art. Bauer returned to England in 1805, working for the Admiralty until about 1811 completing more than 200 drawings of plants and animals from more than 2000 of his meticulously accurate field pencil sketches, many carefully annotated with his colour coding. He published his completed work as Illustrationes florae Novae-Hollandiae (1813–1816). He is commemorated in names like Freycinetia baueriana, Rhopalostylis baueri and, with his brother Franz, in the genus Bauera.

Thomas Watling was a settlement painter (see Cavanagh).

Over the period of scientific voyages of exploration natural history illustrators changed from being informed amateur artists to being fully trained professionals with a high premium on scientific accuracy. Rice, p.10

[The artistic output of convicts and colonial administrators under governors and John White was huge – George Raper, John hunter, John Doody and Thomas Watling. White shipped back to Enhgland for Naturalists Miscellany and Specimen of the Botany Bay of New Holland and Illustrationes Florae Novae Hollandiae from 1790s to 1800s glutting the market. This tradition was to carry on through John Lewin and Fer Bauer until its culmination in the mid 19th century with John Cotton, Elizabeth and John Gould and George French Angas. Finney p.7]

Early settlers
A number of early settlers left examples of their work to posterity, among them Governor John Hunter (1737-1821) whose sketchbook, published as an illustrated book A Steady Hand in 2012, records scenes and wildlife of New South Wales (Jan.-Oct. & May 1789-Mar. 1790) 1788), Norfolk Island (from Mar. 1790) and Lord Howe Island. Aboard First Fleet flagship HMS Sirius with Captain Hunter (Arthur Phillip’s second in command) were several men who left illustrations of their experience for posterity including Watling and the talented 18-year-old midshipman George Raper, some of whose paintings were copied by Hunter. The largest collections of Raper’s work are held in the First Fleet Art Collection of the Natural History Museum in London (the world’s largest collection of First Fleet art) and the Ducie Collection of the National Library of Australia.[3] But the first professional artist was animal artist John Lewin who also tackled the local flora, some of his work being included in the Hunter sketchbook.

Ferdinand Bauer
Flinders’s botanical artist on the Investigator in 1801 was Ferdinand Bauer. There is no doubt that his paintings were among the best of all time but sadly only 15 of them were printed in the 19th century. Bauer also made botanical collections along with Brown – even some on Norfolk Island that were made without Brown’s company. He also collected herbarium specimens. In 1805 The Investigator had arrived back in England with over 2,000 of Bauer’s field drawings.

Apart from Redouté it seems that the only painter to rival Bauer was James Sowerby who painted some illustrations for Curtis’s Botanical Magazine and James Smith’s A specimen … But many of the early illustrations were based on sketches and herbarium specimens, not the living plants. His brother Franz was similarly talented.

Bauer met John Sibthorpe, Sherardian Professor of Botany at Oxford, at the University of Vienna Botanic Garden and was invited to join a botanical trip to Greece returning in 1781 with over 1,500 sketches as a basis for Flora Graeca published between 1806 and 1840 and considered by Joseph Hooker ‘the greatest botanical work that has ever appeared’.

Pierre Redouté

Jardin de la Malmaison
(text by Ventenat) 1803-4 120 (20 6-plate instalments) in 2 bound volumes. 200 copies printed
Les Liliacées
(text for vols 1-4 by A DeCandolle 3 by La Roche, last Raffeneau-Delile) 1802-1816 486 (80 instalments in 8 volumes
Description des Plantes Rares Cultivées á Malmaison et á Navarre
(text Bonpland) 1812-1817 64 (11 instalments)
Les Roses
(text Clause Thory) 1817-1824


The most prolific and celebrated botanical artist of the early nineteenth century, and probably all-time, was Pierre Redouté whose best paintings were produced while he worked at the Jardin des Plantes and Malmaison (?working for both Marie Antoinette and Josephine). Four of his most famous works were funded by Josephine: Jardin de la Malmaison, Les Liliacées, Description des Plantes Rares Cultivées á Malmaison et á Navarre, and Les Roses. Over a period of about 50 years and with the assistance of Louis XVI and Empress Josephine he produced at least 2,600 colour plates of more than 1800 different species. Though he is lauded as the greatest ever painter of roses, over 100 of his paintings were the highest quality representations of Australian plants. His first pen and wash picture of a eucalypt was of the type species Eucalyptus obliqua (collected by David Nelson and William Anderson) from Cooks third voyage. The illustration was made in 1787 on a visit to London at the age of 28 and is the earliest image of a plant in the genus Eucalyptus and published in 1789 in L’Heritier’s Sertum Anglicum (selection of English plants) which was based on rare plants “cultivated in the gardens around London, especially in the Royal Gardens at Kew”. Josephine recognized his talent by conferring on him the title “Painter to Josephine, Empress of the French” together with a salary of 18,000 francs p.a. Jardin de Malmaison was printed in 20 parts between 1803 and 1805.


His most accomplished painting of garden plants was five folio-volumes for the gardens at Petit-Montrouge and Empress Josephine’s château Malmaison with descriptions in the first three volumes by Etienne-Pierre Ventenat and in the last volume by Aimé Bonpland.


Petit-Montrouge was a garden established by Jaques-Martin Cels that was to become Paris’s most celebrated Enlightenment acclimatization nursery with hothouses to display newly introduced exotic plants which were his speciality (with a network of plant exchange), many sent to him from North America by André Michaux …. but others coming from New Holland possibly from collections made by Labillardiere and his gardener-botanist assistant Félix Delahaye. The second folio written by Ventenat, Choix des Plantes, don’t la plupart son cultivées dans le jardin de Cels, was published in 10 parts between 1803 and 1808 contained 60 plates by Redouté. Jaques-Martin’s son François.


Château Malmaison was purchased by Joséphine Bonaparte in 1798. She had a passion for roses and inherited from the previous owner a garden in the fashionable English style. Further surrounding land was purchased and an eminent architect engaged to create further gardens á l’anglaise. An orangery to rival the best in the world (at Kew and Schönbrunn) was constructed after 1800. At a time when professorial salaries at the Jardin de Plantes were 2,500 francs p.a., Redoute was paid 18,000 for his illustrations for the 2 volumes published in 20 installments between 1803-1805. Jardin de Malmaison in two folio volumes was dedicated to Joséphine Bonaparte; it included 120 coloured plates and is one of the world’s all-time greatest flower books and among the finest botanical art of the Enlightenment, the plants described with binomials and classified using the systems of both Jussiaeu and Linnaeus, many new to science. Plate 67, Josephinia imperatricis, was dedicated by Ventenat to the Empress “May this modest homage recall the enlightened protection that Her Majesty accorded science and the brilliance with which she beautified science”. It had been grown from seed collected in western Nouvelle Hollande by Hamelin on his voyage with Baudin to the South Seas (1800-1803).
Plate 73 was a new genus dedicated to Napolean, Calomeria (in French bon partie). The Calomeria amaranthoides (Qld, NSW, SA) was also grown from seed collected in Nouvelle Hollande donated by Dumont de Courset. Ventenat dies in 1808 and on the recommendation of Alexander von Humboldt the Empress appointed Aimé Bonpland as botanist to complete the work with Redoute which was published as Description des plantes rares cultivees a Malmaison at a Navarre in 1813 (as 11 installments between 1812 and 1817). Among new species described was, for example, Hovea celsii (now H. elliptica), grown from seed obtained on the Baudin expedition, in a genus which had been named by Robert Brown. Most of the 64 plates in this volume were also by Redoute.


19th century
By the mid 19th century Belgium, well placed to market plants across Western Europe, was a major horticultural player with names that still echo through the industry – van Houtte, Lemaire, Verschaffelt and Morren.


Eugene von Guérard was the pre-eminent artist from the 1850s to the 1870s his work featuring in inter-colonial and world expositions while he was master of the Victorian Painting School and curator of the Victorian National Gallery. When he returned to Europe in 1881 his work was soon eclipsed by interest in the Australian Impressionists, Edwardian artists and moderns, and it is only in recent times that a reappraisal would rank him as Australia’s foremost colonial artist. His book Australian Landscapes consisting of 24 lithographic plates was published in 1865 and the most important collection of his works held in the National Gallery of Victoria.


Whatever else his virtues Ferdinand Mueller was not renowned for his use of botanical illustrators.


The Director of Sydney Botanic Garden Joseph Maiden (1896-1924) had his own illustrator, Margaret Flockton, trained at the South Kensington Art School in London who produced the lithographs for his 8-volume Forest Flora of New South Wales and A Critical Revision of the Genus Eucalyptus through which she is commemorated in Eucalyptus flocktoniae. In South Australia John Black the author of the ?first flora of South Australia produced his own illustrations.


Actual travelling artists Austrian Ferdinand Bauer with Flinders was possibly one of the best botanical draughtsmen the world has known and his work together with the landscapes of William Westall, George Angas and Samuel Gill have left us impressions of pristine landscapes that no longer exist.


Ferdinand Mueller & his artists and connections
Mueller at first found it difficult to find illustrators for his copious descriptions of new plant discoveries but eventually enlisted the assistance of a German resident Ludwig Becker and later the Swiss Frederick Schoenfeld. Among Mueller’s collectors and illustrators were, from NSW, Caroline Louisa Atkinson and in Victoria Ellis Rowan.Clarke. Over a period of 40 years Mueller was to oversee the production of some 589 plates by artists that included Emil Todt, Robert Austin and Robert Graff.[Durragh pp. 160-161] Eventually producing well illustrated educational material for schools.


Ellis Rowan achieved international fame. Rosa Fiveash was a botanical illustrator for ?botansts J.E. Brown and R.S. Rogers. and Sydney Parkinson.


The Botanical Magazine; or Flower-Garden Displayed – (becoming Curtis’s Botanical Magazine in ?1995) – William Curtis Sydenham Edwards 1787- today
Botanical Repository – Henry Andrews 1797


Herbier Général de l’Amateur 1814-1827
The Botanical Register Sydenham Edwards 1815-1847
Botanical Cabinet – Loddiges 1817-1833
The British Flower Garden – Robert Sweet 1823-1837
The Botanist – Benjamin Mound 1825-1830
Gartenflora – Regel 1852-1940
Illustration Horticole 1854-1896
Annale de Botanique et d’Horticulture, La Belgique Horticole 1858-1862
Paxton’s Magazine of Botany 1849-
Edward’s Botanical Register 1829-1847
Le Jardin Fleuriste … 1851-
Flores des Serres at des Jardines de L’Europe
Sweet’s Flora Australasica
The Magazine of horticulture, botany … 1837-
La Belgique Horticole 1851-
Icones et Descriptiones Plantes Cult et …
Dictionnaire des Sciences Naturelle 1816-1830


Some European magazines illustrating Australian plants


Flower painters & botanical illustrators
With the Enlightenment a clear distinction was made between ’ flower painters’ whose work captured the beauty and appeal of plants while the ‘botanical illustrators’ worked closely with the botanists to indicate those features that distinguished a particular plant, its diagnostic characters. Most outstanding of WAs early illustrators was Ferdinand Bauer whose paintings are now housed in the London Natural History Museum. After settlement prominent artists included Margaret (Lady) Forrest, wife of the first Premier, Emily Pelloe who illustrated books on WA wildflowers (1921)and orchids (1930), Edgar Dell who worked with Gardner on West Australian Wildflowers (1935) with80 colour plates. In the 1950s there was the work of Rica Erickson and in more recent times Margaret Wilson and Margaret Pieroni, both dedicated conservationists who produce still produce work of the highest possible standard.


The social hierarchy of nineteenth century Britain gave upper and middle class young ladies an education that included drawing and painting as a feminine occupation that was “moral and innocent” – there was an accepted formula as set out in instruction books of the day and this meant a similarity of form and composition in the earlier work. It was a creative diversion and hand-illustrated cards were sent to friends in Australia and family back in England. Many sketchbooks and paintings by colonial artists are held in the Pictures Collection of the National Library of Australia which includes more than 900 of the paintings of Ellis Rowan completed as she travelled alone round the world.


Arrival of photography
By the 1850s photographers were working in Melbourne but transporting the equipment on expeditions would have been extremely troublesome. Three photographs record the start of the Burke and Wills expedition and 42 plates were made in Central Australia taken by the Alfred Howitt’s relief expedition but these were accidentally exposed on their return. At this date the main means of pictorial recording were paintings and sketches.


By the end of the 19th century as photography became more widely used and two World Wars commanded peoples attention botanical art passed into a period of stagnation before its revival in the 1960s and 70s.


Landscape painters – the Heidelberg school of Australian impressionism
To this list must be added those landscape artists who have communicated a strong sense of the character of Australia’s vegetation, its unique textures, colours and moods. Of those not fully freed from their European conventions are ‘colonial’ artists John Glover, Conrad Martens, Eugen von Guerard and Abram-Louis Buvelot.


Of the Australian impressionist school Frederick McCubbin stands out as an artist who cleverly captured the light, colours and atmosphere of the Australian bush. ?Albert Tucker.


Printing pictures
It is easy to forget that in books we do not see the artist’s actual work but a copy of it that has been accurately replicated in some way on the printed page. Achieving a true simulation of the artist’s work using coloured inks has proved a major technological challenge.
Techniques used to do this were so elaborate, and the audience so small, that until the mid 19th century the work of Australian artists was sent back to Europe for printing. However, by the end of the 19th century Australian printing was as accomplished as anywhere in the world.[Darragh, T.A. 2012. ‘The Desert Shall Rejoice and Bloom’: Botanical Prints in Colonial Australia in Capturing Flora: 300 years of Botanical Art. Art Gallery of Ballarat.p.141] although the people doing this work in Australia were mostly from Europe, this situation changing at the end of the 19th century.
At first it was colonial governments that accepted the role of publisher, the techniques available being: wood engraving, metal plate engraving, and lithography.
In the earliest days of printing plant illustrations, like those in the old Herbals, were mostly produced using woodcuts. Blocks of wood were carved along the grain using tools called gouges so that the image stood out in relief: the block could then be roller-inked so that only the relief was inked and the image then ‘stamped’ onto the paper. The artist’s general design would be outlined in some way on the woodblock and then the detailed carving was completed by a specialist craftsman, the block-cutter. Wood engraving used the end grain of a block of wood and carving tools like those used for metal engraving. This enabled much more detailed work and because the wood blocks could be inserted with the metal print, entire pages could be pre-set for the printing press. Wood engraving was used from the late 16th century through to the late 19th century but from its earliest days was challenged by metal plate engraving techniques.
With metal plate engraving lines were etched using a sharp tool, the burin, in a process known as intaglio. Copperplates allowed much more detail than wood engraving but the metal was rather soft and later replaced by hardened steel. However, in Australia the preferred method of producing botanical plates was by lithography.
Lithography uses a metal plate with a surface that has not been engraved in any way but treated chemically so that the differential acceptance of inks allows the creation of ink impressions using a special press. Images are printed either directly from the plate or after transfer to a more amenable printing surface (offset printing).
Botanical prints were generally produced by lithography and at first colouring was done by laborious hand-colouring but by the mid 19th century in Europe this had been replaced by chromolithography using individual plates for each colour addition.
Occasionally ‘nature printing’ was used, the plants themselves being inked on the plates. This was the technique used by Ludwig Becker (1808-1861) for one of the first three illustrations produced for Mueller which appeared in the Transactions of the Philosophical Institute of Victoria in 1857.[Darragh p.152] Becker worked with Mueller until 1859 producing six octavo plates, 14 quarto plates and three preparatory drawings. [Darragh p.154] Thiswwork was continued by Swiss Frederick Schoenfeld (1810-1868)who completed Becker’s work and through to 1868 completed 80 octavo plates,90 quarto plates before leaving as Victoria fell on hard economic times. Schoenfeld tragically committed suicide the same year.
Mueller did not return to illustrated publications until 1873 when a paper on fossils from the Ballarat goldfields was illustrated by the lithographs of Richard Shepherd (1825-1885), then for his own taxonomic work Eucalyptographia three artists were employed: Emil Todt (1809-1900), Robert A.austen (1850-1900) and Johann Rummel (1835-1906) who had formerly been employed by Mueller in his chemical laboratory. Austen died in 1879 and was replaced by Robert Graff in 1883 (c.1836-?) who remained at the Gardens working on the lithography of Mueller’s work until 1892. For popular educational books commenced in the late 1870s Muller had used wood engravings.
Meanwhile in Queensland Colonial botanist Frederick Bailey employed lithographic artists Henry Eaton and Margaret Hope for publications illustrating the Queensland flora.


At the end of the 19th century technology changed again as photographic coloured illustrations could now be produced directly from the artwork .


Gender and botanical art in the Victorian era
For middle and upper class women of the Victorian era employment in the workforce was considered demeaning. Women were regarded as fragile physically and intellectually and were encouraged to remain delicate, lovely, and shielded from the world. A woman’s place was in the home and it was for the man to provide for the family. If the wife had to work then the man was not fulfilling his role. It would take two world wars to make a serious impression on this perception.


Apart from home-keeping and social activities there were few options for females wishing to broaden their horizons. Socially acceptable activities included music, dancing, drawing and decorative arts like needlework and painting.


The natural world in general, and plants in particular (collecting insects involved cruelty), were regarded as a suitable amusement and diversion, especially as it involved fresh air and brought people closer to God’s beautiful creation – so women would be found in large numbers on nature rambles, learning how to identify, press and paint flowers, taking an interest in horticulture, and attending botany classes. Linnaeus had written that his system was easy to master ‘Yes, even for Women themselves’.[Wulf p. 224]


Photographs in the library of the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne show us Directors Ferdinand Mueller and William Guilfoyle surrounded by coteries of crinolined ladies, their notebooks at the ready. An general introduction to the historical and social context of female artists in nineteenth century Australia is given in Picturesque Pursuits (2005) by Caroline Jordan while detailed accounts of some of Mueller’s female collectors is told in Penny Olsen’s Collecting Ladies: Ferdinand Mueller and Women Botanical Artists.


If the woman was from a wealthy or influential background then these activities would be fittingly magnificent in scale. While their husbands were off managing affairs of state, women like Josephine of France, Catherine of Russia and assorted duchesses and countesses in Britain would compete with one-another by accumulating plant collections, managing the landscapes of their large country estates, and taking an interest in the latest botanical literature and art. The spouse of George III, Queen Charlotte, was patroness of botany and the fine arts. Napoleon’s wife Josephine would create one of the world’s most famous Enlightenment gardens at Malmaison in Paris containing a vast collection of roses, lilies, and introductions from scientific voyages of exploration, the landscape set out in the fashionable style of Le Jardin Anglais.


The obverse of this situation was that men taking an interest in botany were regarded as rather ‘effeminate’: much better if they were occupied with manly activities getting bloody fighting for King and country on a battlefield somewhere. It was without doubt an era contributing to prejudicial assumptions about ‘hard’ male academic subjects like maths, physics and chemistry and ‘soft’ female subjects like botany and biology. To the more muscular and heroically minded men of the age Banks and Solander must have appeared a very strange pair – and, for that matter, biology altogether a rather namby-pamby business. Who’s for flower power chaps?


To assist English women with their botanical pursuits there was a small library of titles like James Sowerby’s A Botanical Drawing Book: or, An Easy Introduction to Drawing Flowers According to Nature (1807), John Lindley’s Ladies’ Botany: or, A Familiar Introduction to the Study of the Natural System of Botany (1834, 1837), and from Jane Loudon, wife of garden chronicler John Loudon, there was The Ladies’ Flower Garden of Ornamental Annuals (1844). Botanical chatter was found in The New Lady’s Magazine, or Polite and Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex and Jean-Jaques Rousseau had written an extremely popular book Letters on the Elements of Botany: Addressed to a Lady (1787) noting that studying nature ‘prevents the tumults of passion’.[see Wulf p.224]


Horticultural historian Andrea Wulf notes that a poem Loves of the Plants (1789) by physician Erasmus Darwin (grandfather to Charles Darwin) had captured the imagination of the British public and inadvertently promoted both botany and the Linnaean system of plant classification, making them seem not only accessible but ‘effervescent and delightful’. His witty and erudite verses based on the Linnaean classification system turned plants into people, allowed for risqué allusions that included much blushing, rudeness, fondness, modesty, flushed cheeks, tears, jealousy, trembling, butterflies, nymphs, glow-worms, haughty maids, and so on. Erasmus was a promoter of science schools for girls and he described his verses as ‘little pictures suspended over the chimney of a Lady’s dressing-room’. He was one of many cashing in on the massive boom in botanical and horticultural literature at the end of the 18th century. [Wulf pp. 225–227]


Louisa Meredith (1812-1895)
Books like these would have been sold in Australia where among early 19th century female artists can be listed Louisa Meredith and her illustrated book of poems The Romance of Nature (1836), Our Wildflowers Familiarly Described and Illustrated (1839) and An Autumn Ramble on the Wye (1839) which she produced in England before moving to Australia in 1839 where she spent most of her time in Tasmania. Here she produced several unillustrated accounts of Australian flora for an overseas market: Notes and Sketches of New South Wales (1844), My Home in Tasmania (1852) and Over the Straits: A Visit to Victoria (1861). Later she produced two illustrated books of nature poetry printed in England using the new technique of chromolithography: Some of My Bush Friends in Tasmania … (1860) and Bush Friends in Tasmania Last Series (1891) as she became more adventurous in the flower painting tradition. Meredith regarded Jane Loudon as a friend and acknowledged the influence of John Sowerby on her work.[Neale, A. OCAG p. 407 who cites Ellis, V.R. 1979. Louise Anne Meredith: A Tigress in Exile. Sandy Bay, Tasmania.]


Fanny de Mole (1835-1866) & Fanny Charsley (1828-1915)
Arrived in Adelaide in 1856, more or less an invalid, fleeing a background of poor health in London. Convalescing here she improved gradually, publishing her work as Wild Flowers of South Australia (1861) with 20 hand coloured lithographs (painted by her family) depicting 38 species of plants.


Fanny Charsley had come to Melbourne in 1857 from Buckinghamshire and corresponded with Mueller at the Botanic Gardens in Melbourne (she was one of about 200 female correspondents who sought advice from Mueller) before returning to England in 1867 where she published The Wild Flowers Around Melbourne in the same year thanking Mueller for his botanical assistance in the Preface. It contained 13 engraved lithographic plates which she had individually hand coloured herself.


Among other flower painters communicating with Mueller and who published their work were: Anna Walker (1830-1913) Flowers in New South Wales (1875) while in Tasmania Eliza Blyth (1820-1894) offered classes in flower painting at a school in Hobart producing a folio of Tasmanian Flowers for the Intercolonial Exhibition in Melbourne in 1866-7.


Ellis Rowan (1848-1922)
Born in Melbourne and living on the Derriweit estate at Mount Macedon, Victoria, Ellis Rowan grew up with a love of the wildflowers and family connections to the Gardens in Melbourne. Though self-taught she had visited England and probably received some training in basic drawing, her watercolours and paintings soon catching public attention.


A meeting with English flower painter Marianne North in 1880 galvanized her determination to travel in search of challenging plant subjects which took her to N Qld (1887, 1891-92), WA (1889), NZ (1893-94), London (1895-96), USA and West Indies (1897-1903), also SA, NSW and back to Qld and WA. In New Guinea in 1916 she contracted malaria which eventually lead to her death.


She asked Mueller to assist her with plant identification, Mueller encouraging her to travel to Germany where she could hone her skills in botanical illustration, a suggestion that she did not take up. She produced more than 3,000 paintings winning many medals and awards both in Australia and overseas. A collection of 947 of her paintings was purchased by the National Library of Australia in 1923. Her work combines the beauty and individuality of floral art with extraordinary botanical detail. [McKay, J. OCAG p.520] [Aitken Capturing Flora]


Rosa Fiveash (1854-1938)
Rosa Fiveash lived in North Adelaide with her sister receiving art lessons from a governess and, hoping to take up a position as art teacher she attended the Adelaide School of Art and Design. Being single she could teach in a school rather than being forced to teach privately. As her work became known she was appointed as botanical illustrator for J. E. Brown’s The Forest Flora of South Australia (1883-1890) the paintings prepared for lithography by Harcourt Barrett. Her work was also sought by botanists including E. Stirling and J. Black and a collection of her work was acquired by the South Australian Art Gallery in 1900. Some of her illustrations were republished in Australian Orchids (1974). [Collett, J. 2012][Jones, D. OCAG p.221]


Margaret Flockton (1861-1953)
Sussex-born Maragaret Flockton was born into an artistic family, her father being an artist. She trained at the South Kensington Art School where she learned lithography, moving to Sydney in 1881 working for several years as a commercial artist, then offering art lessons at her studio in Castlereagh Street where Joseph Maiden’s daughter Mary took lessons and later did some illustrations for the botanic gardens in a voluntary capacity. In the 1890s she exhibited alongside Arthur Streeton and Tom Roberts at the Art Society of New South Wales. A set of chromolithographs was commissioned by the American tobacco Company first printed as cards then, in 1904, as a booklet Australian Wild Flowers (1908). She also wrote and illustrated a booklet on lichens.


In 1901 she became the first female artist employed in an Australian herbarium and here she was employed by the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney from 1901-1927 being paid two shillings an hour to work primarily on Maiden’s A Critical Revision of the Genus Eucalyptus which was published between 1903 and 1931 in 75 parts, and The Forest Flora of New South Wales published between 1902 and 1925 in 77 parts.


All-in-all Flockton produced about 1,000 illustrations now stored in the archives of the Sydney Botanic Gardens, her retirement in 1927 at the age of 67drawing to a close a fascinating era of Australian botanical art that was not to recover again until the 1950s and ‘60s. She was not replaced by the Sydney gardens until 1980.
[Gillbank, L. OCAG p. 222] [] [Collett, J. 2012. The Ornamental Garden: Lady Amateurs and Female Botanical Artists. In Capturing Flora.pp. 177-222]


Between about 1890 and 1950 economic and political matters overshadowed the early dynamism, excitement and quality of both botany and its work. This was the result of many factors: botanical giants like Mueller would never be seen again, there simply were not the people with such experience and drive to step into his shoes. Perhaps too the period of genuine discovery was drawing to a close and with it too some of the romance of plant discovery and description as the links with European botanical world diminished. European botany too had struggled to recapture the botanical momentum developed by Banks. Mueller, being German, and with European friends in high places, had maintained this contact across the globe. But Australia was now having to find its own way. Patronage had passed into history and in hard times for a botanist to have access to an artist was a luxury. The 1890s and 1930s saw two depressions sapped enthusiasm for what would have been seen as indulgent projects. Multiple colour plate lithography was extremely expensive and in the early 1900s was replaced by colour printing – either as offset printing or, occasionally by frawing directly onto lithographic plates. Flower painting had become less popular as a leisure activity partly due to the reduction of the privileged class and assumptions about what was appropriate leisure pursuit for well-to-do ladies.


20th century
Within this period w ere the illustrations of Eileen Mort to Florence Sulman’s A Popular Guide to the Wildflowers of New South Wales (1914-1915). Among the better known ‘modernist’ flower painters were Grace Cossington Smith, Margaret Preston, Helen Ogilvie.


At Sydney Botanical Garden the obvious talent of Margaret Flockton had been acknowledged by Director Joseph Maiden who paid her 2 shillings an hour giving her the honour of being Australia’s first acknowledged botanical artist to be employed by a Herbarium. She remained at the Gardens for 27 years, retiring when she was 67 and completing about 1,000 illustrations beginning with Maiden’s Genus Eucalyptus and The Forest Flora of New South Wales which started out as pencil sketches before being converted to lithographic plates. She retired at the start of the Great Depression and would not be replaced for many years.


1950-1960 Modern photography
With the advent of the camera a few believed that the task of botanical art was over as cameras could produce ‘actual’ reproductions of plants at a fraction of the cost of a professional artist. It was now a turn for the men, this period being marked by two Victorian amateur painters, William Nicholls (1885-1951) and Stan Kelly (1911-2001).


William Nicholls & Stan Kelly
William Nicholls had some training in drawing at the Ballarat School before joining the staff of Footscray Park where he was a propagator. As a member of the Field Naturalist’s Club of Victoria, indulging his passion for orchids with a vast output of detailed paintings published in 1950-51 using both offset and lithographic methods but his major legacy Orchids of Australia was not published until 1969 many years after his death.


Stan Kelly was an engine driver from Ararat and a self-taught artist. His work did not include intricate botanical detail but nevertheless his paintings of eucalypts were sufficient to assist identification and were executed with a distinctive personal style. Starting off as a hobby painter in the 1940s his work on eucalypts became more serious with his successful publication of Forty Eucalypts in Colour in 1949 after which he set himself the goal of illustrating the entire genus, combining with text by botanists George Chippendale and Robert Johnston to produce two volumes (1969, 1978) called Eucalypts containing 535 species and subspecies.


1960-1970 – a new era of professional illustrators
By the 1970s botanical illustration had once again become a desirable occupation as, now in more propitious times, botanic gardens could afford a limited numbers of positions. Ludwick Dutkiewicz (who ventured into painting, sculpture, theatre and film) was the first herbarium artist, employed in the South Australian Herbarium from 1953 to 1983 followed by Christine Payne in Sydney, Margaret Saul in Brisbane and Anita Barley in Melbourne.


Botanical art now has a strong following of both active world-class participants and enthusiastic students supported by botanical art societies and regular exhibitions in most states.


In 1973 Celia Rosser at Monash University, Melbourne, began her project to paint life-size portraits of all the species of Banksia


NOTE: Tasmanian landowner William Archer was not only a collector in the 1840s and 50s but assisted J Hooker with Flora Tasmaniae with funds and as a botanical artist.


NOTE: Clarke, I. The role of the botanical artist. AGH 7(6): 4-5.
Harvey’s Phycologia Australica.
NOTE:Check the history of Dumont de Courset and where he obtained his seed from Australia.
NOTE: The Eternal Order in Nature: The Science of Botanical Illustration presented by the Friends of the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne will be timed to coincide with the XVIII International Botanical Congress at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre in July 2011. The International Botanical Congress is held every six years with the last conference in Vienna in 2005. What is significant about this event is that up to 4,000 scientists from around the world get together to discuss nomenclature – the naming of plants, as well as all fields of botanical science, including research on plants, algae and fungi.


Margaret Stones
It is with Colac artist Margaret (Elsie) Stones (1920- ) that a new era of professional botanical art was ushered in. Trained in commercial artat Swinburne Technical College and the National Gallery Art School Stones took up illustrating plants from the Grampians when she was forced into convalescence with tuberculosis. Her talent was soon acknowledged as she was invited to join botanical collecting trips and encouraged to exhibit her work. In 1951 she moved to London working at Kew and also exhibiting her work. She was rewarded in 1958 with a position as senior artist working for Curtis’s Botanical Magazine completing more than 400 plant portraits between 1958 and 1983. Meanwhile she was working on commissions for, among others, the Royal Horticultural Society, London but is perhaps best known for The Endemic Flora of Tasmania which she completed with Tasmanian botanist Winifred Curtis between 1967 and 1978. The Queen Victoria Museum and Art gallery in Launceston has a collection of 254 of her drawings of endemic Tasmanian plants. The high standard of her work was acknowledged when she was awarded honorary Doctorates of Science from Louisiana State University in 1986, and the University of Melbourne in 1989.[Gillbank, L. OCAG p.572]

At last more propitious times were releasing money and there was no shortage of talent now.


Betty Conabere
School teacher Betty Conabere ()had no formal training but her work was clearly of a very high standard. She provided 50 illustrations for Victoria’s Alpine Flora, the money for this projectprovided by the Maud Gibson Trust. Then, in 1968, work for the Wildflowers of South Eastern Australia, the descriptions provided by J. Ros Garnett .


Celia Rosser
Melbourne-born Celia Rosser (1930- ) had formal training at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and was inspired to paint the flora of East Gippsland where she lived. She was supported by the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne Maud Gibson Trust which, in the late 1960s, sponsored her first drawings of plants in the genus Banksia. In 1970 she was appointed Illustrator for the Science Faculty at Monash University and began work on the pencil illustrations of The Mosses of Southern Australia (1976). She is best known for her work dedicated to the completion of paintings for all species in the genus Banksia, a project that she began in 1974 collaborating with botanist Alex George and published as The Banksias between 1981 and 2000. Her immaculate and fine-detail work incorporates all the most demanding aspects of botanical art including many preliminary sketches while working in the field, all under the critical eye of a professional botanist. She has been commissioned for postage stamps and exhibitions receiving an award from the Linnean Society of London in 1996 and an honorary Doctorate of Laws from Monash University in 2000.[Hewson, H. OCAG p.518]


Sydney artist Paul Jones, trained at the Julian Ashton School and has worked alongside modernist still life painter Adrian Feist. He has two major works commissioned by the Tryon Gallery in London with text by Wilfrid Blunt, Flora Superba () and Flora Magnifica (1976).


Recent times have seen a resurgence in interest in botanical art as eager pupils line up to learn from present-day masters. There is the Margaret Flockton and Celia Rosser medals to be won and exhibitions that draw informed and appreciative crowds who, perhaps weary of the challenges ofabstract art in its various forms, are only too pleased to look at art whose executants craftsmanship is evident to all as just as the beauty of their and subject matter beyond question.

Among the contemporary masters are Jenny Phillips() … Anita Barley joined the National Herbarium of Victoria as Botanical Illustrator in 1977 remaining until 1992. She was the first botanicalartist to be employed inVictoria and the first in Australia after Margaret Flockton. It was a new era as she wasfollowed by Mali Moir who was awarded the RHS prize and also by her ‘student’ Dianne Emery.


In Tasmania Lauren Black has worked with boyanist Patrick Dalton on the mosses of the island and Jean Dennis, like Celia Rosser and Stan Kelly before, has set herself the task of completing a genus, this time Brachychiton, which has so far occupied her for 15 years.


Sydney-based Elizabeth Cooper produces the most exquisitely shades drawings of plants in graphite pencil.


The eagerness and flow of vegetation that began in the English 18th century and dubbed gardenomania and botanomania spread from Britain to the Neo-Europes – India, Australia, America, New Zealand and has raised the prospect of a homogenisation of world vegetation.


James Woodford
September 20, 2008
HIDDEN in rugged ranges in north-west Arnhem Land, a spectacular treasure-trove of Aboriginal rock art is set to rewrite the history of Australia.
In a find that has stunned archaeologists and anthropologists, a vast wall of about 1500 paintings chronicles the history of Aboriginal contact with outsiders, from Macassan proas and European sailing ships to 19th-century steamships and a World War II battleship.
Alongside exquisite rock art more than 15,000 years old are paintings that capture some of the 19th and 20th centuries’ most important technological innovations – a biplane, bicycle, car and rifle – as well as portraits of church ministers, sea captains and traders.
This indigenous version of a history book rivals anything similar in the world and holds the key to Australia’s ancient and modern history, according to scientists who have just returned from an expedition to the Djulirri rock shelter in the Wellington Range. The Griffith University archaeologist Professor Paul Tacon, one of five scientists who travelled to Djulirri, said it was of international significance, unprecedented in artistic and technical merit and telling a new story of contact between Aboriginal people and the world.
Contrary to the popular view that indigenous Australians were isolated on their island continent, waves of other seafaring visitors arrived long before British settlement. For hundreds of years there may have been an export economy in northern Australia driven by the Chinese appetite for trepang, or sea cucumber.
While it has long been known that Macassans traded with Aboriginal people, the accepted date for this was in the early 18th century. The team of scientists believes it may have begun centuries earlier.
“This rock art dismantles the popular identity of Australia being a nation first visited by the British,” said Dr Alistair Paterson, of the University of Western Australia, also on the expedition. “It goes against the idea of the Bicentennial and convicts.”
The first rock art expert known to have seen the shelter was George Chaloupka in the 1970s. But the exact location was lost until a doctoral student at the Australian National University, Daryl Guse, relocated it by working with a local Aboriginal elder, Ronald Lamilami.
Apart from conducting the first full recording of the Djulirri art, the team of researchers discovered thousands of other rock paintings previously unknown to science.
Their trip was the first part of a three-year national program to uncover the archaeology of first contact with Aboriginal people around Australia. But the researchers fear that, without urgent government support, the Arnhem Land sites could be severely damaged. Tourism is rapidly expanding in the Wellington Range, says a Griffith University archaeologist, Dr Sally May, and one of the most important rock art sites, known as Malarrak, is being severely degraded by visitors.
Mining companies are also sweeping into the area. The range is a prime site for uranium and other exploration. Mr Lamilami wants an indigenous ranger program established to ensure the sites are properly managed.
The people living along the northern coastline -the Kimberley, Arnhem Land, Gulf of Carpentaria and Cape York – have had encounters with various visitors for many thousands of years. People and traded goods moved freely between Australia and New Guinea up to and even after the eventual flooding of the land bridge by rising sea levels, which was completed about 6000 years ago.
However, trade and intercourse between the now-separated lands continued across the newly-formed Torres Strait, whose 150 km-wide channel remained readily navigable with the chain of Torres Strait Islands and reefs affording intermediary stopping points. The islands were settled by different seafaring Melanesian cultures such as the Torres Strait Islanders over 2500 years ago, and cultural interactions continued via this route with the Aboriginal people of northeast Australia.
Indonesian “Bajau” fishermen from the Spice Islands (e.g. Banda) have fished off the coast of Australia for hundreds of years. Some historians believe that Tamil sea-farers might have had knowledge of Australia and Polynesia much before European contact.[21]


Artist-explorer Thomas Baines (1820-1875) of Kings Lynn, Norfolk in England, worked with the Augustus Gregory expedition (1855-1857) inNorth Australia providing a visual record of the region in the decade after Leichardt’s epic trek from Moreton Bay to Port Essington,one of the more epic jaunts of imperial exploration in this period.[1] Carruthers, J. & Stiebel,L. (eds) 2012. Thomas Baines: Exploring Tropical Australia 1855 to 1857. National Museum of Australia: Canberra.



Norst, M.J. 1989. Ferdinand Bauer. The Australian Natural History Drawings. Lothian: Melbourne.


Just as early work on native plants was by Europeans so too was botanical illustration. and the many illustrations in Curtis’s Botanical Magazine illustrated by ?Sydenham Edwards who was to establish and illustrate his own magazine the Botanical Register edited by John Lindley eminent botanist, Professor of Botany at the University of London and librarian to Banks with many Australian plants illustrated by Sarah Drake.

Brown was meticulous in his instructions to botanical illustrators Sowerby, Curtis and the Bauers as they prepared his plates.


Today we take for granted the intrinsic beauty of plants and especially their flowers and yet this aesthetic appreciation seems to have been late to develop: it was animals, symbols, and human figures that feature in Palaeolithic art. Perhaps the lack of stains and dyes was a constraining factor.
The development of the human skills in the diverse modes of plant representation is a fascinating reflection of the historical development of science and technology. The twentieth century saw myriad new imaging techniques at high resolution. Just a few of these that helped bring the microscopic structure of plants to the world are mentioned here.
Of the most recent developments computational photography, or digital image capture have probably had the greatest impact on daily life.
In very general terms we see the following transition: line engraving (embossing, petroglyph) and drawing (charcoal, pencil, ink, crayon), painting, sculpture, etching (aquatint, photoetching), photography (black & white, colour, motion, digital), electronic or digital imagery.


2,500,000 Tool Culture of knapping Emergence of Clactonian culture of European flint tool manufacture
700,000-290,000 – First known prehistoric rock art as Petroglyphs at Bhimbetka and and Daraki-Chattan Cave, Madhya Pradesh, Central India, including stone figurine Venus of Berekhat Ram
540,000 – 430,000 – Trinil, Java, engraved patterns on shell by Homo erectus
60,000 – Engraved hatched banding on ostrich shell by Homo sapiens in the Diepkloof Rock Shelter, South Africa

100,000-70,000 – Earliest African art as Venus of Tan-Tan figurine
70,000 – Blombos Cave engravings with cross-hatch designs on ochre rocks
60,000 – Diepkloof eggshell engravings, Africa’s next oldest art. Neanderthal prehistoric artists create the La Ferrassie Cave Cupules

40,000 – Aurignacian art – the beginning of cave art around the world
39,000 – Abstract symbols red dots/disks and hand stencils) – see El Castillo Cave paintings
38,000 – Ivory carving known as the Lion Man of Hohlenstein-Stadel. Earliest Asian art as Sulawesi Cave art in Indonesia
37,000 – Venus figurines miniature carvings of obese female figures with exaggerated body parts and genitalia
35,000 – Fumane Cave paintings, the world’s oldest figurative pictures. Abri Castanet engravings, the oldest cave art in France
33,000-30,000 Animal & figurative carvings, like: Swabian Jura ivory carvings (Vogelherd cave)
30,000 Venus of Galgenberg (Stratzing Figurine). First known cave painting appears in France, Chauvet cave paintings in the Ardeche Valley; Ubirr rock painting in Arnhem Land, Australia, Burrup Peninsula rock engravings in the Pilbara Kimberley rock art
26,000 Nawarla Gabarnmang charcoal drawing in Arnhem Land
25,000 – Venus of Dolni Vestonice, first ceramic figurine, Romania. Earliest work of ceramic art
18,000 – Xianrendong Cave Pottery – oldest known ancient pottery from Jiangxi, China
17,000 – Lascaux cave paintings of Franco-Cantabrian Cave Art, and engraving in caves of Le Roc-de-Sers Cave Engravings, La Tete du Lion and Spanish Cave of La Pasiega; Aboriginal Bradshaw paintings frst appear in the Kimberley, Western Australia

9,500 – Argentina Cueva de las Manos (Cave of the Hands), stencils, paintings, Mesolithic art in the Americas. Clovis culture artifacts at Fell’s Cave Patagonia and Blackwater Draw in eastern New
8,200 – South African Wonderwerk Cave engravings of geometric designs, ideograms, animals, South Africa

8,000 – Tassili-n-Ajjer rock art, Algerian paintings and petroglyphs; Ancient Persian pottery from Ganj Dareh (Valley of Treasure). Jiahu turquoise carvings, bone flutes, Henan Province China
7,500 – Shigir Idol, the world’s oldest surviving wood carving of a human figure
7000-2000 Chinese Neolithic Art as ceramic pottery. Oven-fired pottery in Mesopotamia in farming communities
5,500 – Goddess terracotta figurine at Catal Huyuk, Anatolia, as religious art; Egyptian bone, ivory, stone figurines from Naquada I Period
5,000 – Persian Chalcolithic pottery
4500-539 Sumerian Art and Mesopotamian art

4,000 – 2,500 – Jade carving begins in China, Chinese lacquerware and silk production. First megalithic architecture, in Portugal (from 5,000); Breton Cairn of Barnenez (from 4,450); the tombs and monuments of Carrowmore, Cuil Irra Peninsula, Ireland (from 4,300). Building of Stonehenge stone circle begins (c.2,600 BCE)
3,500 – Mesopotamian civilization in region of today’s Iraq, Uruk the first city-state Ancient Persian art of Susa and Persepolis. Bronze sculptures produced in the Maikop culture of the Russian North Caucasus. Sumerian civilization in S. Iraq with writing as hieroglyphs), ziggurats with clay fired bricks
3,200 – Cuneiform script; Egyptian art and civilization begins

3,200 – Metallurgy yields copper-and-tin bronze sculpture in the Indus Valley Civilization of India Egyptians create first wall paintings in tombs; copper-working begins in southern France. Emergence of Beaker culture in Europe (named after their distinctive drinking vessels)
3,100 – Egyptian wall paintings and bas-reliefs
2,660 – Statues, pyramids like Great Pyramid at Giza (2550), Sphinx (2550)
2,500 – Mesopotamian sculpture of gold-leaf, copper, lapis lazuli; Aegean Art in eastern Mediterranean
2,000 – ‘X-ray’ Aboriginal rock art in Arnhem Land; Xia Dynasty culture, China; Minoan Palaces built & rebuilt on Crete
1,750 – Sophisticated Chinese art
1,700 – Hittite and Assyrian art of Iraq
1,600 – Mycenaean civilisation flourishes in Greece. Glass making perfected in Mesopotamia
1530-1500 – Temple complex of Karnak to god Amon at Thebes

1200 – Pre-Columbian art in Meso- and South America
1,184 – China, Sanxingdui Bronzes appear in Sichuan province
1,050-221 Geometric style Greek Pottery
900 – Zhou Dynasty art, the last period of Bronze Age culture in ancient China
800-700 – Hallstatt style of geometric designs followed by Celtic curvilinear spirals, zoomorphsof La Tene (450)
600 -> – Egyptian, Greek, Persian and Etruscan art influences Roman art that feeds into the modern era


0-100 – Engraving of images on glass
220 – Woodcut or woodblock printing used throughout East Asia but originating in China, used first on textiles and later on paper. Earliest record in China is of silk printed with flowers in three colours from the Han Dynasty (pre 220). In the 13th century the technique was transmitted to Europe
1200s – Paper technology transmitted from China to Europe via Islamic Spain and manufactured in Italy by the end of the thirteenth century, France and Germany by the end of the fourteenth century
1400s – Etching – strong acid or mordant to cut into the unprotected parts of a metal surface to create a design in intaglio (incised) in the metal of armour, guns, cups and plates
1430s – Metal engraving Germany, on copper used to make prints on paper, soon spreading round Europe becoming highly sophisticated from 1470 to 1530 used by artists like Albrecht Dürer
1461 –Woodcut published book illustration by Albrecht Pfister of Bamberg a few years after the introduction of movable type
1796 – Alois Senefelder invemts lithography where an image in oil, fat, or wax is transferred onto a limestone or metal plate
1839 – Louis Daguerre – Daguerrotypes – permanent photographs on silver-plated copper sheets – Talbot introduced a paper-based product in the same year as ‘photogenic drawing’ but it was less defined
1861 – James Maxwell creates an additive color image using the three-color method
1878 – Eadweard Muybridge first motion pictures of galloping horse
1888 – Kodak box camera introduced
1889 – celluloid roll film introduced by Eastman
1902 – Arthur Korn -Images transferred electronically
1907 – Autochrome, first commercial colour photography introduced
1913 – Kodak panchromatic motion picture film commercially available
1914 – The World, the Flesh and the Devil, in Kinemacolor, first feature film in color
1925 – Leica introduces 35 mm format for still photography
1932 – Flowers and Trees, the first color cartoon in Technicolor by Disney
1931-33 – Electron microscope
1947 – Dennis Gabor invents holography
1948 – Edwin Land, first Polaroid instant camera
1957 – Russell Kirsch, first digital image produced on a computer
1959 – Ultrasound – displays screen images of tissues or organs formed by the echoes of inaudible high frequency sound waves (20,000 or more vibrations per second)
1960s – NASA creates digital images of the moon surface
1960 – Radioisotopes
1972 – Computerized Axial Tomography scanner (CAT scan) – cross-sectional views as well as three-dimensional images of internal organs and structures
1972 – Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) improved imaging of soft tissue than x-ray CAT
1975 – Steve Sasson of Eastman Kodak creates non-commercial prototype of a digital camera
1981 – Sony produces first commercial digital camera
1986 – Kodak introduces megapixels to digital cameras
1997 – Philippe Kahn first picture shared by cell phone
2009 – FujiFilm produces first digital 3D camera

Aboriginal Rock Art

Ubirr Art Site
Kakadu National Park
Evidence of Aboriginal art in Australia can be traced back about 30,000 years.
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

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