Home' My Ballarat : My Ballarat September October 2012 Contents www.ballarat.vic.gov.au
Capturing Flora: 300 years of Australian botanical
art features more than 350 images, the vast
majority of which have been collected by Gallery in
The exhibition, which opens to the public on
Tuesday 25 September, will be accompanied
by a major publication, the first comprehensive
monograph to cover this artistic 'territory' for more
than 10 years.
The Beauty of Botanical Art
Botanical art - scientifically accurate renderings
of plant species - has been with us for a very long
time as an art form that has been always been
linked with science. When used by a medieval
doctor the accuracy of a botanical illustration could
be a matter of life and death.
Because 'botanical art' encompasses images of
plants which have been created to identify, classify
and compare plants from either a scientific or a
horticultural perspective, their primary purpose is
functional. However, regardless of this utilitarian
origin, great botanical art has always had an
Capturing Flora explores and celebrates the art
that has been created to depict Australian flora,
telling this complex story through more than 350
images ranging in date from 1729 to 2012. The
exhibition is a visual journey examining issues of
aesthetics, science, exploration, horticulture and
social history which have combined in different
ways over the three centuries.
The European discovery of this continent took place
during the Enlightenment, an era when time, effort
and finances were put into voyages of exploration.
The collecting of specimens during these
expeditions was the work of some of the greatest
botanists of all time - including the great Joseph
Banks and Labillardière.
The botanical art which recorded newly-discovered
plants which were radically strange to European
eyes was of extraordinarily high quality. The
illustrations from this period are by artists of almost
legendary stature like Ferdinand Bauer and Pierre
During the 19th century, the growing middle
class, both in the colonies and the home country
developed an insatiable interest in horticultural
pursuits. The new 'exotick' plants were highly
desirable specimens in British and European
hothouses and conservatories in the first half of the
19th century. Long before it became fashionable
to grow 'native' plants in Australia, certain species
enjoyed a huge vogue on the other side of the
world, in spite of the difficulties of keeping them
alive in the harsh climates of northern Europe.
A feature of upper middle class British society was
the encouragement given to women to engage
in drawing as a pastime. One of the favoured
subjects was flower painting and when translated
to Australia this often took the form of capturing
native wildflowers of the newly settled regions. The
work of 'lady amateurs' of the Victorian era forms a
distinctive section of the exhibition. Much of it is of
exceptional quality, and indeed a number of these
artists moved from amateur to professional rank in
the final years of the 19th century.
All the early Australian botanical art was made
overseas. With the economic stimulus of the gold
rush, universities and botanic gardens were set up
in all the colonies and by the 1860s botanists were
conducting research into the indigenous flora rather
than simply forwarding specimens back to Europe.
At the same time developments in lithography
meant that botanical illustrations could be mass-
produced in this country. Several colonies, notably
Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales,
vied with each other to create the most impressive
botanical publications. The new printing techniques
allowed prints to be coloured mechanically,
resulting in a boom in botanical art which lasted
into the 20th century.
Two serious depressions and the Great War
brought all of these developments to a halt, but by
the 1950s a new group of professionals was being
trained and commissioned to continue the process
of documentation of the Australian flora. Australia
has enjoyed a renaissance of botanical art in the
last 40 years and the final part of the exhibition will
explore the background to this revival and feature
the works of 10 of Australia's leading practitioners.
The last 30 years has seen a veritable flood of
highly talented artists emerge, and Capturing Flora
features a representative sampling of great work
from the 1980s to the present day including Jenny
Phillips, Anita Barley, Mali Moir, John Pastoriza-
Piñol, Andrew Seward and Jean Dennis.
This spring, the Art Gallery of Ballarat will host the most comprehensive
exhibition of native botanical art ever presented in Australia.
is at the Art Gallery of Ballarat,
Lydiard St Nth, from Tuesday
25 September to Sunday
2 December. The exhibit is open
9am to 5pm, daily. Admission is
$12; concession $8; child and
gallery members free.
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