Art/Science of Illustrating Nature

Art/Science of Illustrating Nature
Expert Panel
Talks / Lecture

Moses Griffith (1747- 1819), Rainbow Lorikeet, 1772, nla.cat-6155314
Recording date: 
24 October 2018

 

Listen to our facilitator, Canberra journalist and garden-lover Genevieve Jacobs along with botanical artist Julia Landford, ANU anthropologist Dr Bronwen Douglas and leading botanist Dr Judy West to discuss the context and importance of the natural history art that arose from the Cook voyages, as well as discussing the continuing significance of natural history art in the scientific field today.

Image: Moses Griffith (1747- 1819), Rainbow Lorikeet, 1772, nla.cat-6155314

Transcript

The Science of Illustrating Nature

 

*Speakers: Susannah Helman (S), Genevieve Jacobs (G), Bronwen Douglas (B), Judy West (J), Julia Landford (L)

*Audience: (A)

*Location: National Library of Australia

*Date: 24 October 2018

 

S:         Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the National Library of Australia. My name is Susannah Helman and I project-managed and co-curated our current Cook exhibition here at the National Library of Australia.

As we begin I’d like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land, I thank their elders past and present for caring for this land we are now privileged to call home.

The National Library’s new exhibition, Cook and the Pacific, explores Cook’s three extraordinary voyages to the Pacific. It looks at the voyages as meetings of peoples and their knowledge systems, of places, of the voices and the stories of people on both the ship and the shore, European and first nations.

One of the major achievements of Cook’s voyages was their collecting and documentation of the natural world. For example of over 30,000 botanical specimens collected on The Endeavour voyage by Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander about 1,400 were unknown to Europeans. Sydney Parkinson, the young Quaker artist on that voyage completed 674 drawings and 269 watercolours of botanical specimens. This evening our panel will discuss the context and importance of the botanical and zoological art that came out of the voyages of Cook as well as the continuing significance of this kind of art in the scientific field today.

Cook and the Pacific would not be possible without the support of individuals, communities, cultural institutions, sponsors and government. The National Library of Australia acknowledges the generous contribution of first nations peoples who have allowed their culture, experiences and voices to be heard throughout the exhibition. We also acknowledge the support of lending institutions, both domestic and international, and private lenders. By sharing their history and collections with us we will build stronger connections with the communities whose lives these collections represent. We thank the Australian Government for providing significant funding including through the National Collecting Institutions Touring Outreach Program and through the Australian Government International Exhibitions Insurance Program. We are grateful for the financial and in-kind support provided by our generous exhibition partners, ActewAGL, the Pratt Foundation, the Kenyon Foundation and Foxtel’s History Channel.

Facilitating our panel tonight is journalist and writer Genevieve Jacobs. Our panellists are Julia Landford, Dr Bronwen Douglas and Dr Judy West. Julia Landford is the Director of the Natural History Art School, Canberra Nature Art Lab. In Julia’s 20-year public service career she was deployed to Papua New Guinea, southeast Asia and the Pacific region. The rich biodiversity of these regions was a great source of artistic inspiration and saw her establish Canberra’s first art school dedicated to artistic inspiration from nature. Julia is very happy to provide information about Nature Art Lab after this session and there are Nature Art greeting cards available in the bookshop.

Dr Bronwen Douglas is an honorary professor at the ANU School of Archaeology and Anthropology and was a Harold White Fellow at the Library in 2010. Her research interests include the history of encounters in Oceania and the idea of race, and the history of science.

Dr Judy West has had an extensive botanical career and in 2003 she was awarded the Order of Australia for her services to Australian botany. Judy has dedicated her career to botany in several executive positions at the CSIRO and ANU and is currently the Executive Director of the Australian National Botanic Gardens.

Please join me in welcoming our speakers.

Applause

G:        Well thank you very much indeed, what a great pleasure to be back here at the National Library and to see all these beaming, thoughtful faces, always one of my favourite audiences. We’re going to have a conversation here between ourselves up at the panel but then I will throw open to you so we’ll have 10, 15 minutes before the end of the event for your questions. I always say to my audiences that I have great faith in Canberrans to ask thoughtful, probing, incisive questions that further the conversation. In fact from time to time when I’m doing events elsewhere I throw out the challenge and I say well Sydneysiders, can you match my Canberra questioners?

It is indeed a wonderful panel here and I think we’ll have a conversation that draws us deeper into the world not only of Cook, always a figure of fascination for Australia and his voyages but also the peoples into whose world he sailed, their knowledge, their ideas, the scientific context in which this exploration took place and how significant that legacy remains both through the work of the natural history artist who travelled on Cook’s voyages and the continued value of those early illustrations.

But Bronwen Douglas, let me start with you. Set the scene for us if you would in terms of natural history, science, the social context, what kind of world was surrounding Cook’s voyages when he set out?

B:        Thanks, Genevieve, and thank you for coming and it’s very nice to be here. I guess from the point of view of natural history the most important thing is the rediscovery of the classical notion of natural history, the natural history of Aristotle and Pliny which occurs I guess in the late 17th century and is really transformed by the Swedish botanist, Linnaeus in the 1730s. Linnaeus was a Lutheran pastor but his notion of including man as the pinnacle of the animal kingdom, one of the three kingdoms of nature was heretical, certainly heterodox and probably heretical in the 18th century.

Joseph Banks was a true Linnean, he followed Linnaeus’ principles very, very closely and I guess it could be said he operationalises Linnaeus – well Linnean ideas in the newly emergent imperial settings of - particularly in this case the exploration or the scientific exploration of the Pacific. And it’s in that nexus there that – between science and empire that you actually find Cook and those who sent him operating or moving. The point about – the Linnean revolution is the drive to describe, name and classify everything in the natural world whether it be rocks, plants, animals, insects, fish and man, human beings.

I think this is a really important aspect of the difference between the three voyages, is that Banks, the full scale Linnean, recruited Solander who’s a student of Linnaeus and they set out to classify everything they came across, really and man fitted into that. I’ll perhaps stop there except to say that Banks’ collecting included man, he collected Tupaia, the Raiatean and his young – called servant but young companion. And the well-known comment he made is I do not know why I may not keep him as a curiosity as well as some of my neighbours do lions and tigers. Now I suppose it could be said that Tupaia did turn out to be something of a tiger but not quite in the way that was expected.

G:        Judy West, just to follow on from Bronwen’s comments about this sort of intense, fervent motivation around Linnean science, the idea of classification – certainly all science in some sense, it stands on the shoulders of who went before but in terms of botany in particular this was an intensely interesting time, wasn’t it? We are in the midst of a really significant epoch of discovery.

J:          Thanks Genevieve. Yes, it is. Linnaeus’ species plantarum was published in 1753 and that then generated an enormous amount of interest in <inaudible> 9:33 nomenclature and just naming as Bronwen said, classification became a major part of what botany and science was about, really. But I think that what happened on the voyage, especially the first voyage for – Cook’s first voyage, it was sort of going back to – art was being used really there as a communication process of science and it was you know centuries old preoccupation of depicting flora, much more flora than fauna at that time and so it was both for art and for science. So I think that’s the sort of artistic part that comes out of the collections and it was late 1760s, early 1770s that really using – it became the practice of using art for – botanical art for describing the collections that were being collected because they couldn’t you know they – well they certainly collected – Banks, that first expedition, they collected 30,300 specimens of – herbarium specimens you know dried plant specimens and that was a big – and I can come back to that and talk a bit more how Parkinson related to that but there were massive collections done.

G:        And we’re certainly in the midst of sort of quite a long time of the fervour of the plant-hunters and there’s an enormous amount of excitement back in Europe about specimens, about the illustrations of those specimens, about collecting everything you could get your hands on which was a signifier of how cultivated and how intelligent and how well connected you were if you were able to gather that information together. Julia Landford, of course no box Brownies as Judy has suggested a moment ago. Who was recording all of this and how were they doing it?

L:         Well I think the fascinating thing about all of those early illustrations from early voyages is that a lot of the drawings, a lot of the illustrations were closely looking at what people were seeing and trying to understand the structure and the morphology, the anatomy of animals, the characteristics of the things that people were seeing on these voyages. And so from a scientific illustration perspective there are a number of ways of doing that and I think the tools that were available to people at that time were reasonably limited, I guess, in some ways but being able to draw and to construct images through drawing was important but also being able to record the colours and the structures and what people were seeing was equally important. And I think you know when you’re on a collecting voyage and preservation of those colours and the things that you’re seeing in nature particularly, without drawing and illustrating those, you’re not necessarily going to be able to preserve those – the actual colours and images that you’ve created.

G:        And in that sense far from being sort of a pleasant adjunct to the excursions these people are absolutely central to the purpose of discovery, aren’t they?

L:         That’s exactly right, yeah.

G:        Bronwen?

B:        I think it’s important to realise that the drawing, the capacity to draw was an essential ability of an educated person and that includes women too, of course. Banks said explicitly that as far as he was concerned drawing is a better way to convey information than words and indeed Banks wrote relatively little and didn’t write very well anyway or he published relatively little anyway and if you’ve read his journal you know he’s definitely idiosyncratic in his expression – then they all were, I guess, at that stage.

G:        And Judy West, we might just pause for a moment on Banks and Solander in this particular context ‘cause they’re towering figures, talk to me about them, what was motivating them to take place in these really arduous journeys because of course we’re talking about voyages that take place over long periods of time into vast, empty wildernesses of ocean?

J:          And it was again really discovery, basically what is there you know of the 30,000 specimens – herbarium specimens they collected, there was something like 3,600 species but 1,400 of those were new to science and that’s what really was driving them. I mean Solander you know was Swedish and he – as you said he was trained by Linnaeus – he was really a much younger person and – but they were both investigators and it was what was driving them, is to understand these southern lands, basically –

B:        Banks was on his grand tour.

G:        Yes well Banks is a highly educated man and a person who’s got intense scientific curiosity as has –

J:          And wealthy at that time, not late in life.

G:        Bronwen, just back to you for a moment on the context because we’ve talked about this in terms of the European world and the motivations there but tell us more about the first nations peoples that Cook and his shipmates encountered and they spent quite a lot of time in places like New Zealand and the Society Islands. What were those societies, those peoples like at the time?

B:        Very varied. I mean the great Polynesian triangle stretching from New Zealand to Easter Island to Hawaii and to Tonga in the west, there was a degree of capacity to communicate so that when Tupaia sails with Cook – with Banks and Cook to New Zealand he actually can speak to people, he can communicate and I think it’s actually quite fascinating on that first voyage because the – you’re seeing some of the art or you have been, I can’t see it myself but the – Parkinson’s art is very diagrammatic, he’s not depicting people. Tupaia – two of the most remarkable drawings that come out of that voyage are Tupaia’s picture of Banks exchanging a crayfish with a Maori chief in New Zealand and of course his picture that’s in – his drawing that’s in this exhibition of the Aboriginal fisherman.

So the Polynesians were maritime people, they sailed. Tupaia was a superb navigator, he knew – recent research is showing that he knew of islands as far as Hawaii and he’d probably been as far as the [Marcases] 16:10 and Samoa you know he had travelled widely himself, they did. You go further west and you come to quite different societies. Still maritime in places like Vanuatu and the New Hebrides, New Caledonia to a lesser extent, Australia, of course - well New Holland and Van Diemen’s Land, rather different. The people they interacted with were fishing people mostly, they weren’t – and that’s one of the reasons why they were despised, they were thought not to be agriculturalist, not to be settled but they were very different. Tupaia could not communicate in Australia and he found these people very different. So you know a great range of – in Tahiti, Tonga, very hierarchical societies and further west much more egalitarian people.

G:        There’s always been that sense, hasn’t there, that the British explorers were able to somehow get a handle on those very hierarchical societies because they understood something of the process, it made sense to them in a way that Aboriginal culture for instance just didn’t – there wasn’t a firm grounding for the communications. I mean Judy, is there a sense that there’s a communication between equals taking place and understanding that there’s another pool of knowledge? No?

J:          I don’t believe so, no. Even with Tupaia, Cook you know Cook navigate – he’s not a real navigator.

G:        Which is extraordinary because one of the things that comes out of this is this enormous sense of knowledge and you know we’ve mentioned just a moment ago that Tupaia knew of – I think it’s – was it 75 islands, something like that?

J:          Two hundred.

G:        Well it’s 200 that he recognised and 75 that he could sort of name and describe in vast detail so there is actually a huge exchange of knowledge but not necessarily a respectful response to that.

B:        Well Cook did hand the vessel o – handed The Endeavour over to Tupaia to navigate within the Society Islands themselves and then further south towards the Cook Islands. After that of course he took over himself so there was a kind of a professional respect there but it was in that limited – relatively limited geographical zone and further you know they couldn’t conceive that they really knew you know say about Tonga or Samoa.

G:        I think that leads us to sort of some questions about what we see in the artworks that result from all of this. Julia, as an artist tell me what you see first when you look at the botanical records. What’s apparent to you about how this work was approached and what people understood they were doing?

L:         It’s a very, very interesting question and I think that there’s – when you look at some of the early illustrations of Australian mammals for example or birds, what people were illustrating is what they thought they were saying, not necessarily what they saw and that’s quite an interesting difference I guess from current scientific illustration which is very much removing yourself from what you think you’re seeing to actually illustrating what you are seeing and learning to look and learning to observe very closely. So – and I think also there were a lot of disadvantages because they were having to illustrate from specimens that were dried up and no longer had the form or the shape of the live specimens that they saw –

G:        There’s a bit of wild guessing going on sometimes, isn’t there?

L:         That’s right so you know it’s really fascinating but I think a lot of the botanical –

B:        Does that make plants easy?

L:         I think so, I was just going to say I think the botanical specimens which we can see on that slide there, it’s much easier because you’re – although the transient colour issues still remain a problem for artists and for scientific observation so getting the colour correctly rendered on a painting is a really challenging thing. Even now to try to replicate or present that information about colour is quite challenging for artists even today.

B:        And you’re on a ship, what, 20,000 miles away and you’ve only got what you could bring with you. Once you leave Rio, I guess, you can’t replenish.

G:        And I just wondered while you were speaking on that really practical level you know what if something went wrong with your brushes? What if you ran out of yellow?

L:         That’s right or your pigments –

G:        What if all kind of things happened along the way because of those limitations?

L:         Well you know there are some very interesting ways to get around that challenge by you know I think Bauer’s number systems –

B:        Seal poo makes a very nice sulphur colour.

L:         That’s right. But the indigenous Australians did it best, they understood ochres and they understood the colours of country and you know they were able to do those things.

G:        So necessity’s absolutely the mother of invention but it’s not only a matter of scientific record because we’ve also got some intensely romantic renderings of the landscape, William Hodges’ views of the Society Islands, for example. It’s clear that he is astonished by the light and the wild grandeur of what he sees. It did remind me that we’re on – as well as a time of scientific curiosity we’re on the cusp of the romantic era where you’ve got a worship of wilderness that becomes almost a cult and perhaps fuelled by just these kinds of images of this world of primeval beauty. Now there’s a bit of a note of being patronising occurring there too, of course, because they were just other people’s homes but perhaps actually from a few of you, your responses to landscape. Judy, what do you see when you see the landscapes and if we try to put ourselves in the place of the artists who were rendering those?

J:          Some of them out of place, didn’t seem to represent what they might have been seeing. It was a little bit what Julia was saying, they were almost representing what they hoped they were seeing, I think. But many of them are very, very romantic definitely and –

B:        But there’s also a strong empirical drive, you’ve got to get it right too. And I think that probably applies particularly to plants but it also applies to people up to a point. Again you’ve probably seen the Parkinson drawings, they’re not real people, those - he’s a draughtsman, he gets thrown into having to do people – figures because the landscape painter, Buchan, dies in Tahiti and so he and [Sparing] 22:42 who’s –

G:        I mean this is such a technical limitation, the landscape painter’s gone and died.

B:        He had an epileptic fit and died, I mean Banks –

G:        How are we going to get the records back when the landscape painter’s dead?

B:        Banks was furious.

L:         So Parkinson took over doing a lot of the landscape work as well.

B:        But the landscape work of course is very much – his landscape work is very kind of like coastal views, it’s not like Hodges who is a – on the second voyage is a landscape painter and he – and that’s the – not so good at figures so his gorgeous drawings that you’ve seen, the red chalk drawings in the exhibition you know they’re really moving but they’re not terribly good as faces go.

G:        We have focused a lot on the scientific aspects of the voyage but of course we know these days about Cook operating under the secret instructions and you know fascinating to think about that instruction to search for the great southern land and to take it but with the consent of the inhabitants almost as if you’re going to take a straw poll when you’ve landed at Botany Bay you know would you mind if we came and took over? You’ve got no idea what we’ve got in mind for you. But let’s think perhaps about the impact of all this information when we get back to England. Julia, I mean they’re very significant works at the time for all the reasons that we’ve been describing and they’re also part of the field of knowledge that people who are educated and cultivated back in England sort of have within their ambit. This is an essential way of communicating information into that world, isn’t it?

L:         That’s right and I think that’s the important thing that art brings to science, it’s actually that communication of what people see, what people understand, how people are responding to what they’re looking at as well. And it continues to be important today you know it’s – and I think you know there are a lot of topics, talk around photography versus art and how objects and live animals or plants are depicted and there is nothing that can replace that eye hand approach to documenting something –

B:        Except that’s not what people see, they don’t see Parkinson’s drawings, they don’t see you know what they see are the engravings and again one of the things I tried to do in those few slides is to show the differences and the transition, the way in which it does distort, particularly human beings.

G:        Which as you said is an integral part of the whole sort of idea of a collecting strategy, they’ve got very wide open eyes to absolutely everything and they don’t think about this idea of collecting human beings. Judy, as a scientist what’s the continuing importance of natural history art today? I mean perhaps we should just touch on that idea of why it’s more than decorative although goodness knows you know a thousand modern sugar bowls have been launched on the wings of natural history art but there’s an enduring importance to the legacy of this art, isn’t there?

J:          Oh absolutely and I think what we’ve had is botanical art which is much more striving to be scientifically and artistically and botanically correct but with an artistic emphasis as against botanical illustration which is trying to be scientifically you know put the record straight and you could actually use the information to identify a plant so that’s a big difference. But what Parkinson was doing – so what we were just talking about is the problem of colours and when you see some of those illustrations there is Parkinson and Bauer on the Flinders expedition which was 1801-1805, used a numbering system for their colours because they couldn’t do all the paintings. Now because there was a lot of pressure on Parkinson to do the paintings on ship and thinking about it as a rocking thing going around and obviously a lot of problems of just having space and things to do the work –

G:        There are some great stories about how the work was done on board ship, aren’t there? And how the paintings were dried, how they were stored, I mean perhaps –

J:          It was the paintings and the herbarium specimens, to dry them because they had to be dried to get back to England and there was one – The Endeavour tipped partly and it got stuck in the coral near Endeavour River, look you know that area, Cooktown area now. The ship swayed sideways and a whole lot of the cabinets where the dried herbarium specimens were got wet again and so they had to take them all out and they dried them on all the sand on – beside the river, Endeavour River up there.

B:        Good thing it wasn’t the wet season.

J:          Took them a while to dry them.

G:        It’s a fantastic story, isn’t it?

J:          Yeah and some of the things they – because they ran out of spirit they actually dried or pickled some of the – particularly the fruits, the larger fruits, they pickled them in their gin they had still left so –

B:        Because they’d been well supplied with gin, as an English scientific expedition there was a lot of gin.

J:          Exactly. But I think the thing for Parkinson was that he set up the colouring system, that one, it was – might be the next – was partly – he just did some colour on flower and a leaf-type thing and then used a numbering system for the rest so they were actually finished by – I think Banks employed five painters to finish those back in London later. So it was a massive job, he just couldn’t get all the new species done at the time so he did as much as he could and there’s a – the one on the left is hard to see because the line drawings haven’t come out but that’s what it is, it’s a sketch. And there’s another one in there which is actually – it’s a fish which is also hard to see but it’s Bauer, Ferdinand Bauer who was the main artist on the Flinders expedition, beautiful artist and he set up a numbering system which was hundreds of numbers, all the different gradings of those numbers.

And I had a lucky chance there of – I worked in – at Kew Gardens for a year in 1987/88 and they used to have - those drawings were done on like drawing paper and it was – some of them had been stored in - the herbarium specimens still in the herbarium and I had to find a specimen for someone and I came across this thing, I thought oh that looks weird and anyway I took it to one of the senior botanists in Kew. They said no, no, we’ve got them all out of there, no, it can’t be that, can’t be that. Sure enough it was one of the originals of these so that sort of – the line drawings that Bauer had done, they thought they’d pulled them all out and put them in the archives but they weren’t, some were still in there.

G:        So you found an original Bauer line drawing?

J:          Yeah.

G:        What a thrill of discovery, what a moment.

J:          Yeah, absolutely, it was exciting.

G:        Bronwen, we’ve been talking about Banks and Solander and Hodges and Parkinson and so on and so forth. Cook’s a hard character to read, it’s hard to know how he felt about all of this. The scientific aspect of the expedition seems to have been a pretty smashing success but what do we know about how Cook felt about where he’d been and what had happened as a consequence?

B:        Well we do know that Cook wasn’t too happy about scientists or [someall] 29:47 as they were called then. Banks of course didn’t get to go on the second voyage ‘cause he wanted to turn The Resolution into a travelling laboratory and it would have sunk probably and on the second voyage he was afflicted by the Forsters, particularly Johann Reinhold, the older, the father and Georg, the son, young, very young man, he was only about 18 or 19 and wrote a narrative of the voyage. But the Forsters were also – Johann Reinhold Forster was also very difficult so he had to cope with them to the extent that when he went on his third voyage he said no more civilian scientists. And the naturalists on the third voyage were in fact the surgeons, William Anderson and Samwell. Anderson had been on the second voyage. And I think it’s one of the reasons why – one of the things that needs to be kept in mind is the different skills of the particular – and interests of the particular scien – [someall] and of the artists, the skills and interests of the artists because it’s – I have no sense of what Cook thought about it all except that he couldn’t stand Johann Reinhold Forster.

G:        So do you think he went out and did a job and did it – I mean one of the things about Cook is that –

B:        Well he was a scientist himself, remember he was an absolutely superb hydrographer. He was one of the few –

G:        He’s a tremendously competent person, Cook.

B:        Yeah, very competent but you know it’s more than competence, I mean he was an inshore sailor and he was also a high seas man, he could navigate you know his science, his astronomy, his hydrography and his navigation generally were of the – an extraordinarily high capacity which was why he got out of the ranks into being an officer in the first place. So let’s not – he is a scientist himself and that science is really important because it’s you know if you can’t navigate you’re going to run into a continent and come to grief as he did.

G:        Exactly. Are there any records of any kind of – I mean we’ve got all this sort of complex stuff about interactions that took place you know the Society Islands for example and with regard to things like sex that led to decades of exoticising and often quite a lot of misrepresentation. Is there an alternative perspective of how the islanders saw the sailors? Are there stories? Are there oral records of any kind?

B:        Well there are definitely local histories now but it is a long time ago and I don’t think you can expect to see a kind of a continuous transmission of particular stories, particularly in the context of societies that very often were decimated by disease and transformed into – willingly and happily into very strongly Christian societies, not imposed upon them but taken up. But yes, of course there are stories about – which – some of which have been told in the context of the expedition that – about violence, about the failure to reciprocate properly, about lack of respect. I don’t know so much – there is a lot of stories say around Cooktown and there probably is a cont – you know an ongoing continuous tradition there of sorts. I mean you’re not going to get that in Sydney, you’re not going to get that at Botany Bay. But – which is not to say there aren’t indigenous stories and obviously the – Captain Cook has become a synonym for invasion so you have Captain Cooks running around in stories in central Australia.

G:        Is that right?

B:        Yeah.

G:        So it’s something that sort of ripples out?

B:        It’s a kind of a [synectatakey] 33:57 for –

G:        Okay, that’s absolutely fascinating.

B:        - the invasion. Too Many Captain Cooks is the title of one particular paper, been written with an Aboriginal person.

G:        How fascinating, that’s extraordinary. I’m going to turn over to you in a couple of minutes but Julia, I just wanted to turn to you again first. We don’t necessarily absolutely need natural history art today and we’ve covered that territory in discussing the difference between photography and illustration, that it’s got a real value but tell me how you approach the kind of art we’ve been discussing as an artist creatively?

L:         Yeah look, I – it’s a – actually a really important space to be working in and I think increasingly important. Art and digitisation are two very different forms of observing and recording information. But art in itself is something that actually changes the way that the human brain is structured, it changes the way that people learn, it is actually – there’s a lot of scientific research globally demonstrating the importance of drawing and illustration for learning and the benefits that that has across science and scientific discovery and creativity. So it remains absolutely critical for human wellbeing, mental health but also understanding our natural world and being able to observe and learn from what we’re seeing.

As an artist I think actually being able to do that and sit down and look at something a little bit more closely than you would with a photograph or just as a passer-by you have the opportunity to reflect much more deeply on what you’re looking at and understand things much more deeply. So you know I’m really keen to promote that opportunity with young scientists, with children and with students of science because it is actually a really critical skill that we have lost to some extent and we need to regain that and bring it back into –

G:        You’re talking about a very precise process of examination, aren’t you? You’ve got this close, deep focus on something that’s in front of you and it’s not merely sort of trying to capture it accurately. To do that you’ve got to understand how it works.

L:         That’s right so you're asking a lot of questions while you're illustrating, you’re actually trying to understand identification, you’re trying to understand the – how it works, why it works the way it does, where it fits within the broader context of the environment and the world. There are a lot of questions that we need to ask through that observation and that learning and illustration and therefore then art. So there’s – it’s a really critical process that many scientists I think are now understanding and appreciating in their work, much more than perhaps you know they have been recently with digitisation. There’s a bit of a global movement back towards the importance of observation drawing and art.

G:        What inspiration do you get from looking at the images that have been flittering along behind us?

L:         Look, I’m just – I find that immersion in nature again something that’s really, really critical, it’s – I love being able to see the end result as well. I think art is a really important communication tool so being able to use an illustration like that to tell the story about a plant or a specimen or you know an animal or whatever it is that you’re seeing and these early scientists and artists did that so well. And you know there’s still so much more to tell about our natural world that hasn’t been told so – already so you know the challenge continues.

G:        Oh very much so and I think just beautiful to see that cycling roll of images.

B:        That image there which is a flower – a photograph and a detailed botanical description is of the same plant is –

G:        Intensely more information on the left than there is on the right, isn’t there?

B:        At that scale of photography you’re not going to get the detail you can – but – in some way but scientific papers describing you know plants and animals are still using a lot of line drawings and illustrations instead of just photographs.

G:        In fact it seems to me having looked at that that the photograph was really just a bit of a companion to the drawing, the drawing’s the essential source of scientific information there. And it’s useful to have the photograph to give you a bit of a context of how things might look.

B:        And you know there’s artistic value and things like those – there’s been some seeds up there as well. They’re incredibly artistic and they give you a feature of one aspect of the plant which is real but you can’t draw it probably as well.

G:        So let’s turn over to you and I know this a very interested audience so I’ve got a microphone wandering around so if you could just put your hand up and we’ll get the microphone to you so that other people can hear the question and who would like to ask something? You're all having that moment of silence – up here first, just up here on the right – on my right.

A:        <inaudible> 39:36.

G:        Could you all hear Max’s question there? About the [Flora Legion] 39:59 not being published for a very long time and whether that impacted Australian botany, Judy?

J:          So it wasn’t published until you know 200 years after Banks and Cook – those expeditions. Yes, I think it did. Basically it wasn’t available and it was a much harder way for people to describe the [taxes] 40:14 so it was wonderful when it was published in 1980s. But it missed the boat in terms of actually being able to contribute to the scientific knowledge at that time, definitely. And you know that’s been well – I think people have written about that in the past so it was quite a you know because it had this gap. So there were some of the engravings, about 328 or something published in 18 –

B:        1806.

J:          Yeah, 1806 which is some - most of the Australian, some of them – I think there was a few New Zealand ones in there too so that was – it was very good to have that on record but it was only a subset of the – obviously 700 and something that were – 742 engravings that were done, it was a whole - so yeah, it was lacking that information because as I said to start with the record of the – what they were finding was in the artwork, in the diagrams for them. So there wasn’t you know there was a description but the description was very you know sketchy of what the plant looked like and the features of it.

G:        What a shame, though, what a shame.

A:        <inaudible> 41:22.

J:          Absolutely. So in fact there’s a strangler fig in north Queensland that was named after Parkinson, Ficus parkinsonii and it turns out that that was actually previously described but as another species and so that overlap - there wasn’t the knowledge that this had already existed you know so that was –

G:        Fascinating consequences. Other questions? If you’d like to pop your hand up and we’ll get the microphone to you. We’ll go – actually we’ll go to here and then down here to you and then you and then we’ll go up to the back of the room.

A:        Yeah, following on from the delay caused by the delay in publishing the [Flora Legion] and the consequences of accurate description of Australian botany do you think that that’s why so many of the French explorers, botanical illustrations were far more accurate and – especially think of those from D’Entrecasteaux and Baudin where the specimens went back and Josephine appropriated even artists like [Reduta] 42:29 to produce these wonderful illustrations even with artistic licence of leaves wandering over margins and so on? But nonetheless for the time probably better than many of the British published botanical illustrations.

G:        And you’ve also got that wonderful thing of Josephine being fantastically interested in all of this herself which means there’s that impetus at the very highest level of society. Judy? Bronwen?

B:        I think one of the interesting things is that quality of the botanical – the natural history illustrations from the Bruni D'entrecasteaux voyage owed everything to Banks because the entire natural history collections were captured by the British off [Santalino] 43:25 in 1795 and Bank – Labillardiere who had - the botanist who had known Banks or visited Banks before he left wrote this obsequious letter as to a fellow botanist, a great fellow botanist who knows what it’s like to travel all this way around the world you know can I have it all back, please? And Banks says yes and I'm not going to look at a single leaf. And it all went back. And those – I mean those collections dwarfed the Cook collections and subsequently came out in 1804, I think. That was when Labillardiere published his Florae Novae Hollandiae.

G:        Yeah so the accidental threads of history are quite fascinating in that respect, aren’t they?

B:        Banks was enormously important to that period, I mean he recruited and sent out Brown, the naturalist on – with Flinders and Westall, the landscape artist. He advised everybody – he was like a spider with this you know this web going right across the known world, really, right to the Americas and beyond.

A:        This is perhaps more of an observation rather than a question but it seems to me the early artists were probably more successful in depicting flora than fauna even though you know the specialists – obviously there but I mean some of the early illustrations of the kangaroo, for example, were quite odd. I mean perhaps it was what you were saying before, that they were drawing what they expected to see rather than what they saw you know sometimes a kangaroo’s like a giant rat with elongated rear legs, more than the kangaroo so I mean that’s just if you have any comments there I’d be happy –

G:        I think, Julia, if I go to you first on that. I mean it is an interesting observation, isn’t it? Because it’s very hard in any creative endeavour to escape your own assumptions and the things to which you sort of default and perhaps that’s what’s going on here with the animals.

L:         That’s exactly right and I think it’s actually a very, very interesting area of study, I think, the whole lifetime of experience that an adult has when they’re seeing something for the first time. All of those reference points that they have to draw on to understand what something is are based on what’s familiar to them and to actually separate yourself from all of that and really look at what is there is a really challenging thing to do and that’s the amazing contribution that scientific illustration and national history can make to –

G:        I'm always struck by that – it’s sort of a slight shift from what we’ve been discussing but if you look at John Glover’s paintings of early Tasmania and there’s some wonderful illustrations. Hobart town and the flower gardens that are filled with European flowers and seeds, that’s all beautifully observed and you can actually pick what’s what really clearly and then it’s as if what’s beyond? What’s over the other side of the Derwent? Oh my goodness, it is strange and wild and I'm really grasping at how to even represent which is a really interesting observation.

I think we had another question, yeah, up here? We’ll just get the microphone to you.

A:        Thank you for your presentation and conversation. To what do you attribute the slow rate of publication from the British side as opposed to the French and others? Is this wrapped up in the politics of the Royal Society or a division of labour between the Admiralty and the Royal Society or is it some sort of scientific <inaudible> 47:16 on certain individuals?

B:        It’s hideously expensive. I mean the cost of the French productions – and it really only starts with – well it starts sort of with D’Entrecasteaux but to some extent Baudin but they don’t really start pouring the money in until after the restoration with people like Freycinet and [Dupera] 47:40 and [Dumondivere] 47:40 and that’s – they cost an enormous amount of money. And you know the atlases, the botanical and anthropological and you know just the drawings generally are hideously expensive and you don’t – Bougainville you know precedes Cook. Nothing comes from that, nothing is published except one narrative from that voyage. Cook’s narratives, the published narratives are at least accompanied by illustrations but I mean Hawkesworth engravings are bizarre you know they’re not – they bear no relationship really to what actually was seen and done.

It’s really only with the second voyage when – but the – you probably notice that the man in [Mallacoola] 48:35, Hodge’s man in [Mallacoola], when he’s engraved he’s given sort of flowing robe, he’s classicised. Webber’s gorgeous, glorious Tasmanian, I mean Webber is a superb portraitist, I mean that Tasmanian, he you know he comes out with thick lips, he’s racialised almost in the engraving so that’s something that has to be taken into account. But it costs an awful lot and every single one of those images is you know costs a fortune.

J:          But it’s also true that Banks lost interest and was doing other things in Britain at the time and used his money up in different ways so he also didn’t have the wealth he had earlier to actually make sure that the engravings were done.

B:        He pours an enormous amount into it initially, doesn’t he?

J:          Yeah, he did to start with and then lost interest.

B:        Just you know such a huge job.

G:        What a life, though, what a life to be conjuring with these kinds of priorities. We've probably got time for perhaps just one more question? So if we've got someone else? Like to – I think you have been quite stunned by the wealth of knowledge and experience and understanding here. I might just perhaps conclude by asking each of you what you feel as you see this exhibition, where you’re transported and what’s particularly remarkable and distinctive about what we see here in the National Library. Bronwen?

B:        Tupaia.

G:        Tupaia’s an extraordinary figure, isn’t he?

B:        Tupaia’s map and Tupaia’s – I wish we had the Banks exchange drawing too but of course these things are expensive here, this library charges an arm and a leg to you know lend us their stuff. But yeah, seeing the pic – and actually – it relates to your point about digitisation, I’ve been working on these images and – particularly the maps for 20 years now but almost all of them I see on screen. To see the Hodges drawings in the flesh so to speak or on the paper, in the red chalk you know is really – I know you know I’ve seen in the past but it’s so moving, those people – they live again.

G:        Judy West?

J:          Looking at the text of what the comments were from – in the original pieces that are up in the exhibition was fantastic, just that the – how they describe the day, what they did you know it’s fascinating. The conditions they were under was just you know amazing. And their description of mild winds and you know they’re obviously in doldrums somewhere, it just – it’s fascinating. And actually the model of The Endeavour also made me think about really how people worked on that ship and from the scientific point of view, incredible space.

G:        Julia, what about you?

L:         Oh I just absolutely love seeing what people are representing through their art. It communicates so much about them as people but also about what they were seeing and what they were experiencing at that time. And it’s a phenomenal thing to be able to do that and to present that to others and share that experience with others through your art.

G:        I found myself thinking about the word lists because that represents such a devotion of energy that – to try to find the means of communication by which you can even guess at what the other one is indicating, that’s just a remarkable thing to conjure with. Some of those – there’s some really long too, someone’s –

J:          And the linguists are making a lot of use of them still today.

G:        Yeah, absolutely, what a treasure trove ‘cause you know language illustrates a whole world view, it’s not just a simple transposition, it’s an understanding of how people saw their world as a whole.

Would you please thank Julia Landford, Judy West and Bronwen Douglas? It’s been wonderful.

Applause

S:         Thank you very much, Genevieve. Unfortunately we’ve now run out of time but I hope that you can join us upstairs in the foyer for refreshments.

Before we close I’d like to also express my thanks. It’s been quite inspiring to listen to you all. We also invite you to come back another day to see our Cook and the Pacific exhibition and see for yourself some of the original natural history images made on and after Cook’s voyages.

I wanted to just point out that we do have two botanical specimens in the exhibition collected in Australia in 1770. They’re on loan to us from the herbarium in Sydney. We also have an original Parkinson pencil drawing of a grevillea, a watercolour of the same plant completed back in England by John Frederick Miller and an 18th century copperplate on loan to us all from the Natural History Museum in London. And don’t miss the light and sound show, Beauty Rich and Rare located on the 4th floor.

Finally as we close I’d like to thank tonight’s panel again for such an interesting and wide-ranging discussion, please join me in thanking Genevieve Jacobs, Julia Landford, Dr Bronwen Douglas and Dr Judy West. Thank you.

Applause

End of recording

Download transcript 164.11 KB

Recent audio All recent audio