An exhibition of extraordinary natural history paintings and drawings by Australia’s first professional artist, John William Lewin (1770-1819), opens at the National Library of Australia on Saturday, 28 July 2012.

 More than 150 of Lewin’s remarkable and distinctly Australian drawings and watercolours, drawn from the National Library of Australia, the State Library of NSW and other national and international collections, feature in Lewin: Wild Art, the first comprehensive exhibition of his works in 200 years.

 Sponsored by a wealthy London insect collector, Lewin arrived in Sydney on 11 January 1800 with a mission to collect and draw Australia’s natural history for European audiences. He accidentally missed the boat to Australia and found himself embroiled in Australia’s first defamation case, but he was to become well established as an artist in the colony and left an unrivalled record of our past.

 Director-General of the National Library of Australia Anne-Marie Schwirtlich says, “We are thrilled to be able to show these wonderful and important Australian artworks, selected from the Library’s collection, the renowned collection of the Mitchell Library, as well from the collections of the British Museum and England’s Natural History Museum.”

 Curator and Mitchell Librarian at the State Library of NSW Richard Neville says Lewin was instantly captivated by the foreign landscape and exotic wildlife and “was the first to turn Australia’s emblematic natural history into art”.

“Right from the start he was producing these powerful and beautifully observed compositions of insects, birds and plants in their natural environment – an approach completely at odds with conventional English methods.”

 “His work out-classed First Fleet artists and he created a style adopted by Audubon and Gould 20 years later but never achieved the levels of recognition they did.”

 Lewin: Wild Art opens on 28 July 2012 and runs until 28 October 2012. Admission is free.

High-res images from the exhibition are available.

 Contact: Sally Hopman, Media Liaison Manager, National Library of Australia T: 02 6262 1704  M: 0401 226 697  E:

 This exhibition is supported by the National Collecting Institutions Touring and Outreach Program, an Australian Government program aiming to improve access to the national collections for all Australians.