The illustrated works of Ferdinand Bauer


You’ve likely seen them before. Imitations rather, hung on the walls of quaint bookshop cafes and rented country cottages you frequent on the weekends. What you likely haven’t seen is the meticulous detail that has gone into the original artworks, drawn with meticulous resolve by one of the world’s most accomplished botanic artists, Ferdinand Bauer. An intimate exhibition of his botanical drawings, maps and journals from his journey to Australia is now on display in the State Library of NSW.

In 1800, Great Britain was on the cusp of a United Kingdom unification, and simultaneously fighting wars on multiple fronts, yet naturalist Joseph Banks had his attention fixed on a place far beyond the petty territorial conflicts of greater Europe… Australia. Armed with a microscope, books, a world-class captain Matthew Flinders, and a crew of six ‘scientific Gentlemen’, Joseph boarded the HMS bound for one of Great Britain’s most exotic new colonies, planning to circumnavigate the enormous continent for the first time.

One of these ‘scientific gentlemen’ was the very esteemed natural history illustrator Ferdinand Bauer, commended for his fastidious manner of complex colour coding which allowed for the most accurate illustrations. Bauer’s mind worked with remarkable speed, committing colours by number to his memory bank, so that by the time he reached Australia he had 1,000 shades to reference. It was in Australia that he perfected his technique of painting by numbers, sketching exotic flora and fauna in the field and numbering the different parts, later finishing the works in his London studio with watercolours matched to his colour charts. He produced the first European drawings of botanic specimens from Australia, and amassed a catalogue of more than 2,000 plants and animals from the continent.

This intimate exhibition features a selection of these works, including original Bauer watercolours; a letter from Joseph Banks on Bauer’s commission; an early view of Port Jackson by William Westall; and Flinders’ published map of Australia.

Botanical inspirations is showing from the 16 November 2017 until the 28 January 2018 at Amaze Gallery, State Library of NSW. Entry is free.