about this blog



This blog tracks the ongoing changes of my garden, and the wildlife I try to attract to it. It's a nature blog. It contains my thoughts and musings about anything and everything to do with nature - gardening, book reviews, philosophy, travel, science, history, art, design, politics.
Catmint is my signature plant because it has all the qualities I value in a plant: resilience, beauty and the capacity to spread prolifically . Unfortunately it's not indigenous. If I was starting again I'd probably choose an indigenous plant.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

australian botanical art


If it's geographically possible, try to visit the Art Gallery of Ballarat before December 2nd. That's when the exhibition Capturing Flora: 300 Years of Australian Botanical Art closes.

If it's not geographically possible to get to Ballarat, or impossible to get there in time, then all is not lost. You can still read the book of the exhibition, a large, lavish, detailed illustrated book, published by the Art Gallery of Ballarat to coincide with the exhibition.

Both book and exhibition describe the history of botanical art in Australia from its beginnings by 18th century European explorers, botanists and settlers, right up till the state of the art today.



Captain Cook's famous voyage of discovery reached the eastern shore of Australia in 1770. It was the naturalist and botanist Joseph Banks, aboard the ship, who first explored Australia's unique and exotic flora and fauna. He employed the Scottish artist Sydney Parkinson to illustrate these plants. Parkinson didn't survive the journey back, but his many drawings and water colour paintings did.

Sydney PARKINSON
Banksia serrata 1770-1793, engraving
from Captain Cook's Florilegium, A Selection of Engravings from the drawings of plants collected by Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander on Captain Cook's first voyage of the islands of the Pacific
The first book wholly devoted to Australian flora was A Specimen of the Botany of New Holland, published in 1793 in London. The image displayed is Embothrium speciossisimum, the Waratah, now known as Teleopa speciossima.  There was no copyright in those days and these images were copied and widely used for many different purposes.

James SOWERBY, artist, London England, b.1757, d.1822
James Edward SMITH, author, England, b.1759, d. 1828
A specimen of the botany of New Holland and Zoology of New Holland
1793, printed publication with hand coloured engravings
The drawing above was probably based on drawings in the journal of John White, published in 1790 as Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales. White came to Australia as Surgeon with the First Fleet. He was fascinated by the flora and fauna in the new land, and paid close attention to plant characteristics to enable plant identification. For example, he drew three images of Banksia serrata - in bud, in flower and in fruit.


Botanical art is a union of art and science. The images need to be scientifically accurate to enable study, identification and classification of plants. But you can also see how botanical artists vary in their stylistic interpretations of plants, and the images can also be very appealing aesthetically.

I was interested to learn that even in the photographic and digital age botanical art is seen as relevant both in science and art. Although it has had to contend with prejudice that it is only women doing pretty drawings of flowers. One of my favourite parts of the exhibition was some contemporary artists talking about the aims and philosophy underpinning their work.

Here is Mali Moir's statement:  'Botanical art produces inspired and skilfully hand-rendered original works, an expression of  intimacy towards another living subject, where love can be witnessed in the final creation on paper... '

Mali MOIR, artist, Australia, b.1960
Grevillea dryandroides subsp. hirsuta
2011, watercolour

And here is the statement of Andrew Seward: 'All organic form is a representation, a "picture" so to speak, of the invisible forces that shapes them - growth, movement, senescence, decay. The seaweeds I have been drawing show these effects beautifully. Invisible under the water, usually unnoticed on the beach, their development into forms like those I've drawn is very subtle and difficult to observe. 

Drawing provides a means by which the process might be comprehended... ' 

Andrew SEWARD, artist, Australia, b.1967
Ecklonia radiata, Marine algae study
2010, pencil
So there you have it - a few crumbs to sample from an Australian botanical art feast. In exhibition form if you're local and quick, or else in the form of a large, beautiful, illustrated 288-page book.

For this post I'm joining the Garden Book Reviews meme hosted by Holley at Roses and Other Gardening Joys. I used to write book reviews all alone for my blog, until I discovered Holley's meme. Now, thanks to Holley's clever idea, these reviews are no longer solitary. The whole thing feels a bit like belonging to a book club.



42 comments:

  1. Sadly, it's not possible for me to get to Ballarat in time. I heard about this exhibition a month ago, and I really wish they would tour it to somewhere near me! The book looks amazing, but I don't need to have the pictures permanently, I just want to visit them. Parkinson's drawings are so beautiful, aren't they?

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    1. hi Lyn, it's a shame you can't get to the exhibition - maybe your local library could get the book?

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  2. The illustrator has drawn extremely fine pictures. It would be nice to visit an exhibition like that.

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    1. thanks Satu, it was a wonderful experience.

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  3. I wish I could get to Ballarat to see this show. Some of my gardening chums said it was great. I'll look out for the book.

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    1. Hi Silas, the book is a great substitute for seeing the exhibition.

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  4. Those paintings are so beautiful, they send shivers up and down my spine! Thank you for sharing the book - it is especially interesting for those of us who live on the wrong side of the planet to get to the exhibition.

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    1. I'm so pleased you love the drawings so much and found it so interesting, dear GS.

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  5. Ah, thankyou Mrs Catmint. I better get onto my friend in Ballarat now and get things cracking.
    A superb book.

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    1. you'll love it Faisal, I think you'll specially love the antiquarian books on display.

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  6. Dear Catmint,

    It sounds like a fab exhibition. A neighbour of my mother is a botanical artist and I always wonder at the patience among other things, that is required in such an exacting art.

    It is at times like this that I feel the distance between us and VIctoria. I would love to go to that exhibition!

    Kirk

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    1. Patience and dedication is what botanical artists must have I think. You would love the exhibition Kirk - but you have lots of wondrous European cultural artefacts and outings to compensate!

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  7. That exhibition would be wonderful to see in person. I love botanical art. The pages from the book are lovely, and the drawing of the algae is so very fascinating! This book looks like a very interesting, educational, and beautiful book. Thanks so much for joining in. I'm so pleased you think of the meme as a club. I appreciate each and every participant.

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    1. thank you Holley, for being such a warm and welcoming host. I believe if it was possible you would offer me a cup of tea.

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  8. I agree, Catmint, that it is nice to be a member of Holley's garden book club- there are always interesting books to discover.
    Artists were often among early pioneers. They played an often overlooked and yet important role in documenting the early days of countries such as Canada and Australia. Here in Ontario there were two sisters who became quite famous for writing about their own pioneering experience and documenting native flowers. The book on flowers provided them with income that kept them from starvation as a matter of fact.
    I would love to see this exhibit! It takes such keen observation and patience to record plants and flowers. This book looks amazing. I love the cover art in particular.

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    1. hi jennifer, i'm so pleased you like the book. It is really amazing, and I recommend it. Botanical art tells us a lot about the history of the country, I would be interested to learn more about the lives of those sisters.

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  9. I love botanical art too. There were some wonderful examples at the Smithsonian when I visited.

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    1. Hi Susan, until I saw this exhibition I didn't really appreciate botanical art. It must have been fantastic seeing exhibits at the Smithsonian.

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  10. The more I learn about Austalian flora the more fascinated I become. I will keep an eye out for this book.

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    1. I'm so pleased you're becoming interested in Australian flora, Jason. I love it, I think it's quite distinctive.

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  11. I have nothing but admiration for botanical artists capturing all the intimate detail of plants. We have a friend who is a botanical artist , she exhibits in galleries in London and her work is stunning. The exhibition sounds wonderful and I wish I wasn't on the other side of the world!

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    1. Hi Pauline, Your friend must be very successful to exhibit in London galleries. The exhibition is wonderful - but you are indeed a very long way away ...

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  12. I follow two Australian blogs - yours and Bernie's. I have been so captivated by the unusual plants I see in both your photographs that I went to Google images and looked up Australian plants. Oh my. The drooling began. Including for that plant pictured on the front of Capturing Flora.

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    1. there is something very distinctive about australian flora - mostly it is quite subtle and understated compared to plants from other places.

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  13. I love botanical art and the drawings done by those who explored the flora of distant lands. What a great book.

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    1. it is a wonderful book, worth owning because you can go back to it often.

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  14. I enjoy that type of botanical drawing. I have a couple of framed prints in my sunroom of apples/blossoms/seeds that I simply adore. I wish I could stop over for the exhibition! Enjoy!

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    1. we'll have to set up a special blotanical wormhole for situations like this!

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  15. That looks like a lovely book. I enjoy seeing the various unusual flowers (at least for us). Thank you for reviewing it!

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    1. a pleasure dorothy - thanks for your visit and comment!

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  16. Botanical drawings are fascinating. The book looks very interesting. I don't have any framed botanical art, but I do have a favorite set of dinnerware that features botanical art. When my boys were young they used to argue over who got the venus fly trap!

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    1. how funny deb - the moral is when you have 2 children never get only one carnivorous plant plate! There's nothing so dramatic in australian flora - but we do have poisonous snake and spiders. I can't imagine them on dinner plantes though.

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  17. So interesting. How I wish I can draw. My 5 years old draws much better than me.

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    1. me too Diana, it would be wonderful to be able to draw botanical stuff especially.

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  18. The top two are specially appealing. The cover of the book - it would be a wonderful poster to put up on a wall.

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    1. that's a good idea Lucy - the book has a loose cover. I think they sold posters at the exhibition too. If you're interested I'm sure you can get it online.

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  19. This is such a beautifully illustrated book. The point you made on botanical art is the union of art meeting science is so true. Utmost, the illustration should be accurate and true, but because each thing in nature has beauty, it can be had in the drawings as well.

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  20. I had never thought about that till I went to the exhibition. The other thing that was interesting was even though the drawings are accurate, different artists still interpret the same plants in different ways.

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  21. I'm in the States and no where near Ballarat but I'm a Sydney boy and crave anything to do with my Aussie natives and enjoyed your post and examples but the front of the book was a sight by itself.

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  22. I'm so pleased I gave you a little tast of Australia, Patrick.

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  23. Hi Catmint
    I have just found your blog, the exhibition was fantastic wasn't it. I think I needed to see it more than once as I must admit I got abit over awed by it all. Caught the train up from Melbourne which was fun the only downside was smelling the diesel for an hour at Ballarat Station waiting for the train to leave. It would have been great if it had come to Melbourne too, so I could go back and have another look and take more in.

    I love your very last picture. I have a really good picture of a spider in its web at La Trobe's Cottage where I am a volunteer. I will post it on my blog sandisgardenpatch.blogspot.com.au. I too took it with my new camera, unfortunately, I don't have a macro lens, but I am happy with the snap.

    Cheers Sandi

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    1. Hi Sandie, lovely to 'meet' you and discover your fantastic blog. (LOVE the spider photo). I agree the exhibition was too much to take in at one go. That's why I invested in the book, not that I've opened it since although of course I intended to! My macro lens was very expensive, and i don't know that it's so much better than the other lens. Although it could be me. My photography skills are growing but still a very very long way to go. cheers, catmint

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