Saturday, 17 November 2012

Capturing Flora

Such precision and attention to detail!   The patience required must be incredible!    I'm referring of course to botanical art in general and the Capturing Flora exhibition at Ballarat in particular.
The exhibition spans Australian botanical art from Dampier's expedition in 1699 right up to the present day, and includes the work of artists who accompanied botanists such as Joseph Banks (apparently Banks didn't prepare the artwork himself, it was an artist named Sydney Parkinson) through the era when such art was deemed a suitable pastime of upper middle class ladies and to the present day when there are a number of botanical artists hard at work despite the advances of digital imagery and DNA analysis.

The exhibition is captivating and enjoyable.    We were told that there are about 400 items on display - an impressive number, I might add - of which something like 350 are owned by the Ballarat gallery itself (many of which appear to have been acquired in the last few years).    Of the remainder, some are on loan from other galleries (and from the Botanical Gardens in Melbourne) as well as from private collectors, but interestingly several contemporary works have been lent by the artists themselves.

One aspect that I hadn't previously appreciated is that until colour printing was developed (mid 19th century?), it was quite usual for prints of botanical art in books and even in mass circulation periodicals (as forerunners of magazines, they were distributed in installments) to be hand coloured!   Hence, minor differences could exist between different copies, and one of the exhibits lines up 3 different examples of the same hand coloured print.

Actually, the annotation, while referring to the slight differences in shades, includes the comment that perhaps it's surprising that the colours vary so little!   The annotation also discusses the theory that orphans and old women in poorhouses were employed for this purpose, but suggests that this may be a popular myth!

In relation to another exhibit - a grevillea - the curators observe that perhaps the artist was provided with a cutting of the plant to work from, and hadn't seen it growing - because they think the artist has portrayed it upside-down (they provide a photograph for reference).

If you visit, take note of the darkened alcove off to the left just before the entrance to the exhibition.  It's not very well signed, and hardly anyone looked in here, but there on display is what remains of the original Eureka flag - truly a real piece of Australian history.

Note - photography isn't permitted in the Captivating Flora exhibition, so images are from publicity materials.   However, photography is permitted, without flash, in other parts of the gallery, so the image of the Eureka flag is of the actual exhibit.

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