Thursday, 22 November 2012

Botanical Art in Melbourne

Melbourne is Sydney's sister city, and like so many sisters, is different in so many ways. The entire feeling surrounding Melbourne is totally cosmopolitan, extemely cultural and very laid back. I love Melbourne and thrived on the atmosphere and incredible weather in the three days I spent there.

Melbourne on the Yarra River
Some of the laneway graffiti street art Mebour is famous for

Sydney is my town, very rush and bustle, very much a lady, always adorned in its city attire. We have a sense of the outdoor eating culture, but in a very different way to Melbourne. We are not so laid back, more a sense of everyone always in a hurry - and I am no exception. Its difference is also its charm and I would not choose to live anywhere else.
The purpose of my visit was to see two major botanical exhibitions. One was the 11th Biennial Exhibition The Art of Botanical Illustration 2012 in Domain House, situated in the Melbourne Botanical Gardens. 145 beautiful works were displayed.
Would have loved to have spent more time browsing, chatting to other artists and in general, catching up with the Melbourne ladies of botanical art. Spent time talking to the lovely Sandra Sanger who is an extraordinary artist and had three amazing paintings on display. My favourite painting in the show was her Haemanthus coccineus, excuted in watercolour and graphite. So amazing in its incredible detail.

Sandra Sanger's watercolour and graphite painting Haemanthus coccineus
All art is subjective and botanical art is no exception. The general public do not always understand what goes in to making a botanical painting. The initial research of the plant, the many, many hours working with fine detail, correct representation of plant and colour, but also the personal satisfaction and reward are worth it all.
We do not paint botanially for the money, as if we counted the hours involved the paintings would be priced right out of the market. A beautiful painting by an experienced and  gifted artist is really a bargain at $2500 or even $3000. The public does not always see it that way.
I am probably coming from a different place than most people. I love the detail, I love the composition and artistic interpretation and I appreciate every brush stroke and every hour that constitutes a work of art.
Generally the average buyer looks for something that "goes with their colour scheme" or "fits into the space in the hallway". These purchases are chosen because the buyer has fallen in love with them, whether they are technically correct or not. For every painting there is someone who will love it. And that is what art is all about.
The following day I took the train to the historic town of Ballarat in Victoria, an hour and a half from Melbourne. It is Victoria's third largest city, former gold mining town and has a rich and living heritage. Ballarat is famous for the Eureka Rebellion and many paintings of this event can be found in the Ballarat Regional Gallary. The goldfield workers opposed the governments miners' licences and the rebellion was instrumental in the development of Australian democracy.
 Ballarat Railway Station

"We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties"  Eureka Oath, November 1854.
I am a bit of an Australian history buff and retain a very strong connection to my heritage and Australia's past, including all things architectural.
Ballarat Regional Gallery held a remarkable exhibition showcasing their collection of both colonial and contemporary botanical art Capturing Flora: 300 years of Australian Botanical Art. There were over 300 images, from hand painted engravings from the 19th century to original current paintings. As you move from room to room, you move from the very early works to the very modern.
There was far too much to take at once, so we absorbed as much as we could, went out of a coffee and a chance to talk about what we had seen, before embarking on another section of the exhibtion.


Da Vinci cafe in Ballarat with incredible wall paintings
Some visuals will enlighten you as to the work that was displayed.

 Melaleuca hippericifolia (Melaleuque a f.lles de Millepertius)
Engraver Gabriel Sculp c1807
Hand coloured engraving
Drawings were made from early voyages of discovery, as well as the plants being collected, recorded and mounted. These were later drawn by often unknown artists, engraved, then coloured.

 Clianthus dampieri (Nouvelle Holland)
Unknown artist, published Belgium 1858.  Lithograph from 'Illustration horticole, jurnal special et des serres et des jardins'
William Dampier (1651-1715) was a great explorer and the first Englishman to explore areas of Australia, then known as New Holland. He and his crew of the Roebuck landed in South Australia where the Desert Peas were in full flower. They collected and dried the specimens, which were later illustrated in Dampier's book A Voyage to New Holland in 1703. The original specimen is still held at Oxford University.

 Dryandra pteridifolia
Unknown artist UK c1836. Hand coloured engraving
I am currently painting a Dryandra and have done previous paintings of them in the past, while doing commission works from the plants collected by William Baxter. So the connection to this painting was very personal. William Baxter (died c.1836) was a prolific English plant and seed collector and in 1823 he collected seeds from south-eastern Australia, around the Albany area, which is a dry, windy region of Western Australia, but incredibly rich in many varieties of Australian native plants.
There was often a very long journey from the initial drawing or collection of plants to publication in the 18th and 19th centuries. From the discovery of the plant, to the drawing then the often hand engraving to the hand painting. The engravings were invaluable for reproducing books. Unfortunately, many of these books have been cut up and the hand coloured engravings sold separately for incredble amounts of money. Fortunately Ballarat Gallary has some of the books still intact.

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