Thursday, November 22, 2012

Discovering Australia

The images below - all spliced together from screencaps - were produced in the early 19th century by the first (free) professional artist in Australia, JW Lewin. Except where stated, all the sketches are in watercolour. Lewin arrived from London in 1800 with a mission to collect, draw and publish Australia’s natural history for a European audience. The images were contributed by a number of institutions to a NSW State Library exhibition - Lewin: Wild Art - held in Sydney earlier in 2012. [book]

Koala and Young (1803)

Koala and Young (1803)
This is likely the first ever sketch of a koala by a European. The animals are rightly placed adjacent to their favoured gum leaves but, against the size of the koala, they are enlarged out of true proportion.

Australian Nuthatch
Australian Nuthatch or varied sittella (1808)
Daphoenositta chrysoptera [factsheet]

Waratah (floral emblem of NSW) (1806)
Telopea speciosissima [RBG | pics]

Fish Catch and Dawes Point
Fish Catch and Dawes Point* (1812)
This oil painting is a bit surreal with the fish appearing to hang in mid-air

Sydney Cove 1808
Sydney Cove (1808)
"This watercolour shows the west side of Sydney Cove. At the right is merchant Robert Campbell's house and warehouses, now the site of the Park Hyatt Hotel. The Rocks lie behind. Lewin's watercolours are unromantic and plain. Most views of Sydney made at this time were composed to emphasise its supposed similarity to picturesque English towns."
{? The artist's viewpoint may be from the site of the future Sydney Opera House [map]}

Echidna ... porcupine ant-eater -- short-beaked echidna - Tachyglossus aculeatus 1807
Echidna (or porcupine ant-eater or short-beaked echidna) (1807)
Tachyglossus aculeatus [EDGE]
That's not a totally accurate depiction, especially around the back end [pics]. I've only seen one in the wild, up on the north coast of NSW, near Byron*, sunning itself in the middle of the road. I picked it up - wearing motorcycle gloves, thankfully - and moved it into the bush.

Acacia (1805)
One of the black wattle species*
??Acacia mearnsii [info]
Perhaps Lewin's most original, naturalistic and sophisticated artistic design

watercolour sketch of native Australian male carrying spear and woomera (spear-thrower)
Blueit, a native of Botany Bay (1810)
"Lewin made few commercial images of Aboriginal people, perhaps reflecting the generally static interest among colonists towards Aboriginal people during his time in the colony. Many more portraits of Aboriginal people were made during the first 10 years of colonisation, and then from the 1820s onwards. Lewin's watercolours were designed to show Aboriginal people in 'typical' poses."

Wombats 1801
Wombats (1801) {of which there are 3 species - [W]}
"In 1801 William Paterson sent an English colleague a drawing of a wombat, which he had owned and had 'alive for some days'. This is one of Lewin's first watercolours to locate specimens within a specific local environment, an idea he continued to push."

Spotted Side-Finch (Diamond Firetail) - Stagonopleura guttata 1800
Spotted Side Finch or Diamond Firetail (1800)
Stagonopleura guttata [factsheet]

Platypus 1810
Platypus (1810)
Ornithorhynchus anatinus [W]
Just by the by: Flickr pool: Marsupials & Monotremes
"Of all the mammalia yet known, it seems the most extraordinary in its conformation, exhibiting the perfect resemblance of a the beak of a duck engrafted onthe head of a quadruped. So accurate is the similitude, that, at first view, it naturally excites the idea of some deceptive preparation by artificial means; the very epidermis, proportion, serratures, manner of opening, and other particulars of the beak of a shoveler, or other broad-billed species of duck, presenting themselves to the view: nor is it without the most minute and rigid examination that we can persuade ourselves of its being the real beak or snout of a quadruped." [George Shaw's 'General Zoology' 1800*]

Banksia Beauty (banksia moth – Psalidostetha banksiae) 1803
Banksia Beauty or Banksia Moth (1803)
Psalidostetha banksiae
hand-coloured etching

Thylacine cynocephalus (Tasmanian Tiger)
"A newly discovered animal of the Derwent" : Tasmanian Tiger (1809)
Thylacine cynocephalus [DPIPWE]

"All known Australian footage of live thylacines, shot in Hobart Zoo, Tasmania, in 1911, 1928, and 1933" - from Wikipedia.

There have been no conclusive sightings of the Tasmanian Tiger since 1936.

The southern leaf tailed gecko (Phyllurus platurus) 1807
The southern leaf-tailed gecko
Phyllurus platurus (1807)

Oddly, there seems to be two separate animals called the southern leaf-tailed gecko: Phyllurus platurus* AND Saltuarius swainii*; but it/they is/are camouflage experts so maybe they're leading double lives.

19th c. watercolour sketch of Hawkesbury river region NW of Sydney
"A veiw [sic] of the River Hawkesbury, N.S. Wales" (1810)
Hawkesbury river* essentially marks the north
and north west margins of greater Sydney.
"This watercolour depicts the fertile Hawkesbury River. It is Lewin’s most elaborate landscape, which alludes to the richness of the district through its formal composition."

John William Lewin (1770-1819) was a trained natural history artist in England - with a family background in art - who was enticed to visit Australia by stories of the fantastical exotic fauna.

Lewin contributed illustrations to a number of books on local insects and birds. That subject matter had already fallen out of favour by the end of the first decade of the 19th century, so Lewin was unable to raise sufficient funds to return home to England, per his master plan.

Instead, Lewin did portrait painting, upgraded his scientific specimen collecting and sketching techniques and assisted Sydney government office holders with his artistic talents. He gained associate membership of the Linnean Society and was awarded farming land in honour of his well regarded contributions to his adopted city's cultural record.

Lewin was held in high regard by both his peers and by art historians from the modern era too. His sketch works are often cited as groundbreaking attempts at representing Australian scenes in a natural way, moving on from classical/European artifice:
"Art critic Robert Hughes comments that he [Lewin] was the first to record the distinct 'look' of Australia without being blinded by European art conventions".
The praise is most noteworthy because Lewin developed his style and talents independently. He wasn't associated with the normal scientific community of the time that included such a luminary figure as the naturalist, Sir Joseph Banks, who arrived with Captain Cook in the 1770s.

All the images above were spliced together from screencaps, sometimes many per illustration. Variable, but modest, amounts of cleaning of background stains was performed on the majority of pictures.


Oscar Devonian said...

Ah, this is fantastic! Being Australian I've always had a certain fondness for observing the ways colonial artists tried to come to terms with Australia's flora, fauna and lighting conditions. Lewin's certainly done a whole lot better than a lot of his peers.

l said...

I have never seen these before. They are Amazing!

Anthony Hopper said...

Great sketches...Thanks for sharing!

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