Guest blog – Kath Kerswell, Exhibition Coordinator, Botanical Artists’ Society of Queensland
Artistic Endeavour: Contemporary botanical artists’ response to the legacy of Banks, Solander and Parkinson marks the 250th anniversary of the HMB Endeavour’s voyage along the east coast of Australia. Scientists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander, together with illustrator Sydney Parkinson, gathered and recorded many “curious plants (they) met with on shore”.
Showcasing new works by members of the Botanical Artists’ Society of Queensland, the exhibition is an innovative exploration of the artistic, scientific, environmental and cultural significance of this chapter in Queensland’s botanical heritage.
The exhibition includes original materials loaned from the collections of the State Library of Queensland, Fryer Library University of Queensland and Queensland Herbarium. The artists visited all three to view the historical resources on the plants that each artist was researching for the exhibition. Also included are facsimile prints of Sydney Parkinson’s field sketches and the original paintings of the plants held in the Natural History Museum, London. These historical materials show the progression of research used to depict the plants.
Three original specimens from the Queensland Herbarium, collected by Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander in 1770, are displayed alongside facsimiles of Sydney Parkinson’s field sketches. Parkinson passed away before reaching England, and it was the task of other artists to create the detailed illustrations from the dried plant specimens and Parkinson’s notes which were then interpreted by master engravers onto copper plates.
Sir Joseph Banks intended to publish the natural history records made during the Endeavour voyage as a Florilegium. From 1773 to 1784, he employed five watercolourists to complete 595 new artworks based on Parkinson’s unfinished work, and 18 engravers to produce a total of 738 copper printing plates. Botanist Daniel Solander provided ongoing support until his sudden death in 1782. However, the scientific publication did not eventuate and only select proofs were made from the copper plates in Banks’ lifetime. Much later in 1973, a selection of 30 of the copper plate engravings was printed in black only and published in a bound volume entitled Captain Cook’s Florilegium in a limited edition of 100. It was not until the 1980s that the British Museum, in association with the publisher Editions Alecto, decided to restore the copper printing plates and print the complete set of images for the first time in colour, using the à la poupée method to apply each colour separately to the plate. The limited edition of 100, under the title of Banks’ Florilegium, was published between 1984 and 1987.
“[The copper plates] were prepared in the most highly elaborated style of line engraving, each one a virtuoso display of burin craft, with deep perspective and the minutest attention to every detail of the structure. … The vivid modelling and dramatic lighting of these prints are produced by densely laid nets of parallel and cross-hatched lines, all of which create a rich tonal spectrum of blacks and greys. Great attention was paid to the values of tones so that … they would accurately convey monochrome distinctions of depth of color.”
The Fryer Library’s Captain Cook’s ‘Florilegium’ and three prints from the State Library’s Bank’s Florilegium draw comparisons between the requirement for botanical illustration to document the plants for science alongside our artists’ contemporary plant portraits.