Thursday, March 26, 2009

Botanical artists - Franz and Ferdinand Bauer

When you begin to learn about botanical art you begin to hear about the Bauer Brothers. Then you see some of their work and you begin to realise why they are so very highly regarded in the field of botanical illustration.

Banksia coccinea by Ferdinand Bauer Plate 3 from Illustrationes Florae Novae Hollandiae
(source wikipedia)

They are artists who belong to what's known as the Golden Age of Botanical Art - the eighteenth century. The international revival of interest in botanical art has led to them again becoming famous artists.

Today I've completed the detective work for a new 'resources for botanical art lovers' website - The Bauer Brothers - Resources for Botanical Art Lovers.

The site starts with the story of the two brother growing up in Austria and then follows their diverging paths as adults
  • Franz Bauer was employed as "botanick Painter to his Majesty" and to draw all the new flowering plants at Kew under the sponsorhip of Sir Joseph Hooker.
  • Ferdinand Bauer is best known for his role as botanical artist on expeditions to explore and record the flowers and natural history of Greece and the coastline of Australia.
It finishes with a section which focuses on their joint and individual major projects as botanical illustrators.

The new site will be of interest to all botanical artists and all those who enjoy botanical art and natural history. It provides links to the biographies of the two brothers, their major projects and achievements in botanical illustration and places and books where you can see their drawings.

All I can say is that it was more than a little difficult tracking down various references in books and online and getting the timeline and places right, but the eventual story of the two brothers is quite fascinating. My new site just scrapes the surface of their achievements!

Early life

The Bauer brothers were born in what was then Lower Austria. Their father was the court painter to the Prince of Liechstenstein and consequently they were surrounded by art and painting from an early age. However, their father died when they were young and subsequently they were both employed by the local Abbot to record all the plants and flowers in the town's monastery garden. They produced over 2000 watercolour drawings of plant specimens under his guidance and their work has since been published as part of a book known as the Liber Regni Vegetabilis or the The Codex Liechtenstein. The story is told in Garden for Eternity: The Codex Liechtenstein

Francis and Ferdinand acquired their first experience of botanical illustration with the arrival of Father Norbert Boccius, Abbot of Feldsberg, in 1763, and

Their education continued in Vienna under the botanist and artist Baron Nikolaus Joseph von Jacquin who was the Professor of Botany and Chemistry at the University of Vienna and Director of the Botanical Gardens - at the Schönbrunn Imperial Gardens - and who produced many fine illustrated books. . They were introduced to the field of microscopy and learned how it could be used to record fine detail. Under the guidance of Baron von Jacquin, the two perfected their skills as botanical illustrators and became familiar with diverse plants and fine-tuned their eyes to exacting observation. This developed their extraordinary attention to detail which became their hallmark.

Franz Bauer

Franz became anglicised after settling in Kew and became known as Francis. He worked at the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew for about 50 years - at a time when Kew was rapidly expanding its collection of plants. The impression I get is of a botanical illustrator who was very happy in a 'back room' role, who did not want to travel and who over the years became more and more interested in the science and botany of the plants he studied.

His strelitzia reginae - which I've seen in person - is stunning.

Ferdinand Bauer

Franz Bauer was definitely overshadowed by his rather more famous younger brother who travelled extensively with botanists and explorers to map and record:
  • the natural flora and fauna of Greece with Dr John Sibthorp, the professor of botany at Oxford University. They travelled to Athens, Crete, the Aegean islands, Delphi, Rhodes and Cyprus. This resulted in the compilation and publication of Flora Graeca. Only 30 sets were published initially with a further publication of 50 sets. In 1830 a set cost cost £630. You can see a scan of the complete set on this link (which took some tracking down!) - OUP - Flora Graeca (e-book). It's simply stunning - a "must see" for all artists interested in botanical art or natural history
  • the natural history of the coastline of Australia - with Matthew Flinders and surgeon and botanist Rober Brown. This resulted in the Illustrationes Florae Novae Hollandiae.
One can only marvel at his output!

The Natural History Museum (which inherited his drawings) has published a book Ferdinand Bauer: The Nature of Discovery about his work in 2000 which is available from Amazon through resellers or direct from the Natural History Museum.

I can highly recommend making the effort to view art of both brothers in person as I did last year in the Treasures of Botanical Art exhibition at Kew.

You can also see good examples in two excellent books by Shirley Sherwood:


  1. I'm so glad you realize your resource site is for "those who enjoy botanical art and natural history" as well as artists who actually possess the talent and self discipline to produce these wonderful drawings and paintings.

  2. I think there's proabbly very few artists who could ever come close to emulating their work!

    There's an awful lot of us sitting in the 'enjoyment' camp! :)

  3. You are going to have a great deal of trouble topping finding that link to the Oxford University Press e-book Flora Graeca, Katherine. I had tears in my eyes when I realised how far I could zoom in on the detail of those incredible paintings.

    I think I'll nominate you as a Dame for services to Art History - I just wish the title didn't remind me of Guys and Dolls ;)

  4. Ha, ha, I just saw the price of a used copy of the Coxex Liechtenstein! I guess you give with one hand and take away with the other. ;)

  5. Thanks Robyn - it is a pretty stunning site isn't it?

    I did think of taking the Codex link out - but there again, it's an indication of how much their work is valued.

    I really don't understand why the publishing companies haven't cottoned on to the revival of interest in botanical art. I come across so many books which are out of print and only available second-hand.

  6. Oooh, I love their work. Wonderful and far too interesting as I'm supposed to be working here. Thanks so much for highlighting them Katherine.

  7. The Flora Graeca is stunning, thanks so greatful to you much for providing the link. Botanical art is a huge subject, I need to set aside a (large) chunk of time to follow up all your links to these amazing sites.

  8. There is another book which I don't see in your list:

    The Magnificent Flora Graeca: How the Mediterranean Came to the English Garden (Hardcover)
    by Stephen Harris

    currently in print and available from Amazon here in the US for $47.60. A bit cheaper than the Codex Lichtenstein! This has some of his pencil sketches with the number coded color notes on them, part of his system for getting information down in the field to be painted up later.

  9. Thanks Elisabeth - I'll see if I can track that one down.


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