Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Extraordinary exhibition of Australian botanical art

(I am interested in this because I live in Ballarat and am involved with the gallery.)

The Art Gallery of Ballarat has mounted an extraordinary exhibition of Australian botanical illustration, the most comprehensive ever in Australia. There are over 400 works, going back as far as William Dampier's vist to the West Australian coast in 1699, and forward to contemporary work. I found particularly interesting a sequence of works by Celia Rosser showing the stages of a drawing from the initial field sketch of a Banksia (Banksia aculeata) right through to the completed work. The delicate drawings of microscopic details of mosses by Lauren Black are also very attractive. As the exhibition points out, certainly from the mid 19th century women artists played a very important role in botanical illustration, firstly as amateurs, then as professionals.

The English and French exploratory voyages at the end of the 18th century led to Australian plants being cultivated in England and elsewhere in Europe. I was startled to see an account of the Gymea Lily (which grows wild around Sydney) in the botanical gardens of St Petersburg. Eventually the Australian colonies became well-established enough to have their own scientific establishments and produce their own botanical prints, and here Ferdinand von Mueller, scientist and first Director of the Melbourne Botanical Gardens, led the way in promoting botanical illustration. The exhibition has works representing all of the stages of interest in Australian plants, and also shows how the various techniques used for reproducing the images changed over time.

In conjunction with the exhibition there is a lavishly illustrated book with six substantial essays.

The exhibition and the book have been prepared by the Art Gallery of Ballarat, and the majority of the works come from the Gallery's own collection - altogether a remarkable achievement.

Where: Art Gallery of Ballarat, 40 Lydiard Street (North), Ballarat.
When: Until December 2, 2012.
Hours: 9am - 5pm every day.
Price: Full $12, concession $8, members of the Art Gallery of Ballarat Association have free entry.

(Entry to the permanent collection of the Gallery is free.)