Decorative Details

Ellis Rowan was commissioned by Sydney-based China importers to visit New Guinea and paint wildflowers and Birds of Paradise. Comparing the paintings she made of Birds of Paradise on paper with the plate designs she painted on the muslin discs, indicates that she likely painted the former first because they are more closely aligned to her traditional working methods—that is, being watercolour on rectangular sheets of paper.  The gold borders on the discs resemble the gold rim of the plates.

Plate design of Arfak Astrapia

Ellis Rowan, Arfak Astrapia (Astrapia nigra), c.1917, nla.cat-vn215168

Here we can see how a larger painting has been adapted to a plate design. The shape of the bird and its long tail means it appears squashed on the round surface.

 

Plate design of most likely Huon Astrapia

Ellis Rowan, most likely Huon Astrapia (Astrapia rothschildi), c.1917, nla.cat-vn1736459

 

Plate design of most likely Goldie’s Bird of Paradise

Ellis Rowan, most likely Goldie’s Bird of Paradise (Paradisaea decora), c.1917, nla.cat-vn1737588

 

Plate design of Magnificent Bird of Paradise

Ellis Rowan, Magnificent Bird of Paradise (Cicinnurus magnificus), c.1917, nla.cat-vn1736968

This bird is considered ‘magnificent’ due to its colourful feathers. It maintains a tidy court, which is a dedicated area on the forest floor, where it performs mating displays.

 

Plate design of Twelve-wired Bird of Paradise

Ellis Rowan, Twelve-wired Bird of Paradise (Seleucides melanoleuca), c. 1917, nla.cat-vn214297

The distinctive wires on this bird, together with its golden plumes, are used during mating displays.

 

Plate design of two King of Saxony Birds of Paradise

Ellis Rowan, King of Saxony Birds of Paradise (Pteridophora alberti), c.1917, nla.cat-vn1736452

The King of Saxony Bird of Paradise has a distinctive pari of brow plumes. These are used in courtship rituals.

 

Plate design of most likely Lesser Bird of Paradise

Ellis Rowan, most likely Lesser Bird of Paradise (Paradisaea minor), c.1917, nla.cat-vn214460

Irregular details on this and other birds Rowan painted make them hard to identify. This might be because she completed the works after seeing the birds in nature, worked from taxidermy specimens, or because she was depicting a hybrid species or a juvenile.

 

Plate design of two King Birds of Paradise

Ellis Rowan, King Birds of Paradise (Cicinnurus regius), c.1917, nla.cat-vn1736900

A two-dimensional image does not capture the magnificence of the King Bird of Paradise. Its elaborate courtship ritual makes use of its curled wires and vivid feathers.

 

Plate design of most likely Black Sicklebill

Ellis Rowan, most likely Black Sicklebill (Epimachus fastosus), c.1917, nla.cat-vn1736882

It is likely that this is a depiction of a juvenile male Black Sicklebill. Most of the Birds of Paradise take a long time to fully mature, in some cases it can take up to seven years for them to grow their distinctive feathers.

 

Plate design of most likely Western Parotia

Ellis Rowan, most likely Western Parotia, also known as Arfak Parotia (Parotia sefilata), c.1917, nla.cat-vn215196

Explore the work of Ellis Rowan with the National Library

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