Ellis Rowan in the National Library

How the Ellis Rowan Collection came to be part of the National Library of Australia's collection is an interesting tale. In 1921, the Australian Government agreed to purchase several hundred of Ellis Rowan's paintings from her sister Blanche Ryan. However, critiscism in Parliament and disagreements over the price caused delays. It would take another two years before the purchase of 952 paintings was finalised.

This purchase occurred before the existence of the Library as we know it today. The collection was initally stored in the Treasury vaults in Melbourne until 1933, when 947 of the paintings were transferred to the Commonweath National Library. The remaining five paintings were placed in Government House. In 1953 many of the paintings were lent to Australian diplomatic posts and other government agencies. While most were returned to the Library in 1968-70, sadly 28 works were lost.

Today, the National Library's Ellis Rowan Collection comprises of 919 watercolours and gouaches painted between about 1870 and 1920, Rowan's papers and a childhood journal - donated by her niece Lady Casey, in 1956 and 1968 - and of course, many books about Rowan and her work. We even have the two books that Rowan wrote, A Flower-hunter in Queensland & New Zealand (1898) and Bill Baillie: His Life and Adventures (c.1908).

About two-thirds of the paintings in the National Library's collection depict Australian wildflowers, while one-third are of flowers and birds of Papua New Guinea and the Torres Strait Islands. There are 81 bird paintings. Most of the Australian works were painted in Queensland and Western Australia, but flowers of all the states are represented in the collection.

Conversations with the Curator

In this video exhibition curator, Dr Grace Blakeley-Carroll discusses the curatorial process and how she developed and selected items for Birds of Paradise: Ellis Rowan in New Guinea.

 

In this video, Library curators Dr Grace Blakeley-Carroll and Matthew Jones discuss the breath-taking works of Ellis Rowan and reveal their favourite paintings in the exhibtion.

Explore the work of Ellis Rowan with the National Library:

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