Thursday, September 13, 2012

Special Collections Fossickings 11: A journey across the world

Page from Victorian Lady's Sketchbook - plants from India
Page from Victorian Lady's Sketchbook - plants from Australia
Last week we left you with some teasing questions about the 19th century sketchbook held in the Rare Book collection, and its creator. The story continues …..

From the domesticity of English wildflowers and countryside, suddenly the locations become exotic. In December 1891 and January 1892 there are drawings from both sides of the Indian continent. By May 1892 there are sketches from Heidelburg near Melbourne and, in July, from Chatswood, NSW. All of these botanical – flowers, fruits and leaves – some confidently named, others simply described. In India the artist often indicated where the plant had been seen. But there are no landscapes – even though the districts visited were known for their outstanding scenery. Was it all too overwhelming for someone used to the tamer English countryside? Or was it simply a question of time? Botanical specimens can be collected and painted at leisure, landscapes require an artist to be present for hours or days.

Whatever the reason, once the artist arrived in the Bowen district, he or she had both the leisure and the desire to paint no less than eleven landscapes in the month of August, several in considerable detail. Views across the water to the peaks of Gloucester Island and Cape Gloucester clearly made an impression, as did the river and bush scenery inland. One full-page watercolour shows a picnic site beside a river, capturing the faded colours of the bush under a midday sun but not the deep azure of a north Queensland sky.

Most intriguingly it is in these Bowen paintings that we once again encounter the name “Pencraig”, referring to a local property. Next week’s blog will reveal what has been discovered about the Pencraig name and the property owner.

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