Artistic Endeavour: Contemporary botanical artists’ response to the legacy of Banks, Solander and Parkinson marks the 250th anniversary of the HMB Endeavour voyage along the east coast of Australia. Scientists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander, together with illustrator Sydney Parkinson, collected and recorded many “curious plants [they] met with on shore”.
This exhibition showcases contemporary works by members of the Botanical Artists’ Society of Queensland in recognition of this historical event. Our artists from far north Queensland, south to Newcastle and west to Roma, have contributed to this exhibition which has proved to be the most complex project ever conducted by the Society.
The Banks, Solander and Parkinson Committee was established by the Society in May 2017 to guide the exhibition to fruition.
Being a juried exhibition, selection criteria were established for the artworks. Encouragement was offered to members by fellow members through workshops and peer review. Botanical artists Dr Gillian Scott and Margaret Saul offered additional guidance upon request, while Dr Megan Thomas, Dr Paul Forster and
Dr Nita C Lester offered support from the botanical perspective.
The very generous support given by Museums & Galleries Queensland, especially Rebekah Butler and Debra Beattie, and funding through Arts Queensland and the Australian Government’s Visions of Australia program, has enabled the Society to realise this exhibition, Artistic Endeavour.
We know our exhibition will inspire you to examine plants in detail and to enjoy their colours, textures and shapes. You might even create your own plant portraits.
Dr Nita C Lester
President, Botanical Artists’ Society of Queensland Co-curator,
Artistic Endeavour traces the extraordinary legacy of plant collections made along the east coast of Australia in 1770 during Captain James Cook’s voyage on HMB Endeavour (1768–1771). The joint efforts of scientists Sir Joseph Banks and Dr Daniel Solander, and botanical artist Sydney Parkinson, were the first attempt to collect and document the flora along this coastline.
This exhibition of botanical artworks by members of the Botanical Artists’ Society of Queensland portrays a selection of those same plants collected and identified in 1770.
Botanical illustrators and artists have a diverse range of backgrounds and training. They may enter the field from fine art, graphic design, horticulture, landscape design, botany, or general biology. Some are graduates of one of a small number of tertiary programs in botanical art and scientific illustration, whereas others are self-taught. Many botanical artists learn from their peers, taking workshops and masterclasses with leading botanical artists that are often hosted by botanical artists’ groups and societies. The field is keenly cooperative and collaborative, sharing knowledge about both botany and artmaking, with online networks enabling international exchange.
During the early stages of the Endeavour voyage, artist Sydney Parkinson was able to keep pace with Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander’s plant collecting, completing his sketches in colour.
However later, and particularly while in Australia, he was inundated by the number of new specimens and could only sketch, partially colour and make notations for significant portions of each plant portrait. In addition, his workload increased when topographical draughtsman and landscape artist, Alexander Buchan, died in Tahiti.
Botanical art may form part of a project and contribute to a flora or florilegium – records made of plants in a geographical location or garden.
In 1770, Banks, Solander and Parkinson were only able to observe plants in their natural habitats very briefly and the collected specimens could only be kept fresh for short periods before being pressed between paper pages into drying books. An excerpt from the BBC and History Channel co-production, The Ship, shows contemporary botanical artist Lucy T Smith taking the place of Sydney Parkinson in this historical re-enactment of the Endeavour voyage. Lucy demonstrates and describes some of the challenging on-board conditions.
The morphology of a plant tells the story of its unique evolution, adaptation and survival. While many plants can be dispersed, grow and survive across different regions, many others can only be found in one isolated location, occupying a highly specific environmental niche. Only a small portion of Australia’s 20,000-odd species of vascular plants (ferns, conifers and flowering plants) are in cultivation. To really know and appreciate our natural heritage, we need to go beyond our gardens, even our Botanic Gardens, and encounter plants in their native habitats.
In addition to illustrating the collected plant specimens, Sydney Parkinson was also the first European artist to undertake illustrations of the Indigenous people of Australia from direct observation. While the ship was under repair on the Endeavour River in Far North Queensland, the crew were able to make contact with the Indigenous people of this area – the Guugu Yimithirr. Cook, Banks and Parkinson recorded some of their language – including the word ‘Kangooroo: the leaping quadruped’ noted and depicted by Parkinson. Guugu Yimithirr remains an active spoken language today and, where possible, plant names in Guugu Yimithirr have been included in the artwork labels of this exhibition. Names in Yuggara, the Brisbane region Aboriginal language, have also been included, where available, to represent those plants found in south eastern Queensland.
Today, botanical artists continue to accompany botanists on journeys of discovery, just as Parkinson did with Banks and Solander on Cook’s Endeavour in 1770. Like Parkinson, contemporary botanical artists undertake vital field work, roaming through national parks and forests, or through local bushland reserves, recording the plant life that they observe and creating artworks that help inform the public about nature’s diversity and fragility.
© 2020 Botanical Artists’ Society Queensland