Capturing Flora: Passion for the Exotick


An exhibition from the Art Gallery of Ballarat

This important exhibition examines the way in which Australia’s amazing flora has been recorded, interpreted and popularized by botanical artists.

Some of the earliest works in the exhibition come from journals and scientific publications that were produced in the wake of government-sponsored voyages of exploration. The botanical art from this period was inspired by the newly-formulated theories of scientific classification, particularly those of the legendary Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus.

Also included are botanical illustrations produced in Europe between 1790 and 1870 when ‘exotick’ plants from far-away places, including New Holland, became extraordinarily popular with gardeners, in spite of the difficulty of cultivating frost-tender plants in the northern climate. A vast illustrated literature developed to promote these plants, which flourished in stove houses from London to Vienna and beyond.

The focus of some of the work in the exhibition shifts from Europe to the Australian colonies themselves. From the middle of the 19th century, each of Australia’s eastern colonies founded botanical gardens and employed botanists to run them and to conduct research in herbaria. Great botanists such as Ferdinand Mueller in Melbourne and Joseph Maiden in Sydney had recourse to a series of talented artists when publishing Floras for their respective colonies.

Simultaneous to the ‘official’ documentation of Australian plants, an amateur tradition also developed in Australia in the 1830s as upper middle class women settled in the colonies, bringing with them a passion for capturing the beauties of nature using their genteel skills of draughtsmanship. By the end of the 19th century, some of these ‘lady amateurs’ had succeeded in working as paid artists for the Government botanists. Works by some of these artists will be presented in the exhibition

Finally the concluding work in the exhibition manifest a pride in things Australian that became so evident in the decade leading up to Federation. New South Wales, home to some of the most iconic Australian wildflowers, took the lead in botanical art at the beginning of the 20th century.

Curated by Gordon Morrison, Director, Art Gallery of Ballarat.


In the Media

'Arts Thursday - Capturing Flora exhibition', Maisy Stapleton, East Side FM, 21/2/2013
'Flower Power', Christopher Allen, The Weekend Australian, 10-11/11/2012  **
'Brush strokes and blooms', Denise Gadd, The Age, 29/9/2012 **

** These reviews relate to the original exhibition shown at The Art Gallery of Ballarat

Public Programs

Sunday 24 February 3pm
'The Lady Amateurs' with Julie Collett from the Art Gallery of Ballarat
Join Julie Collett as she discusses 'The Lady Amateurs', a fascinating group of Victorian women artists including Fanny de Mole and Eliza Blyth.

Sunday 10 March at 3pm
Botanical Illustration with Lesley Elkan from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney
Join Lesley Elkan, as she discusses her role as Botanic Illustrator with the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney. She will also explore the wonderful botanical art of Margaret Flockton. In 2008 Lesley Elkan was awarded the Margaret Flockton Award for Excellence in Scientific Illustration.




Opening Hours

  • TUES - SUN:  11am-5pm
  • Last admission 4.30pm
  • Closed Mondays & public holidays


  • (02) 9258 0173  
  • Email Us
  • GPO Box 518
    Sydney NSW 2001


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