History of The Art of Botanical Illustration Exhibitions

Over the last twenty years there has been a resurgence in the popularity of botanical illustration or botanical art worldwide, and here in Australia this is partly due to the biennial exhibition of The Art of Botanical Illustration. Its growing profile, both nationally and internationally, has ensured its place as a major botanical illustration exhibition for artists and collectors alike.

In 1990, the Friends of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne recognised the growing talents of botanical illustrators in Victoria and offered these artists a home at the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne. Anita Barley, an accomplished and well recognised botanical illustrator working at the National Herbarium of Victoria, who had also been teaching illustration at Burnley Horticultural College in the 1980s, began taking botanical art classes.

Since then, the botanical art classes offered by the Friends of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne have proliferated and become a training ground for new and emerging talent in this genre. Many high profile artists such as Jenny Phillips, Celia Rosser and Margaret Stones have taught or run botanical art classes and workshops there.

In 1992, out of a need to promote and encourage the talents of the artists associated with the Friends of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne, the first The Art of Botanical Illustration exhibition was displayed at the National Herbarium of Victoria. Viewers were able to see not only beautiful works of botanical art, but gain an insight into botanical illustration’s role in scientific and horticultural identification processes. There were 140 botanical illustrations by 30 artists exhibited and the exhibition has been held biennially since then.

Many works have been purchased from The Art of Botanical Illustration exhibitions for inclusion in the State Botanical Collection. The State Botanical Collection belongs to the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne and is located in the Herbarium. It is made up of two sections: the first section contains over 1.2 million dried plant specimens which are used in scientific research; and the second section is located in the library and is made up of books, periodicals, collections of maps, letters, manuscripts, photographs and artworks. This material is an invaluable resource to staff and researchers working in areas such as biodiversity, classification, evolution, geography, molecular systematics, conservation and horticulture.

It is important that the works exhibited in The Art of Botanical Illustration are scientifically accurate. Each artwork is carefully selected by a panel which includes a botanist, an artist and the head librarian at the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne to ensure that the highest standards are met. The work must adhere to the following criteria: it must provide an accurate representation of the form and botany of the chosen subject; the characteristics of the species or variety must be adequately conveyed; the representation should be an artistically pleasing, balanced and a considered work of art; it must be identified and named accurately according to standard botanical practices; and must have been completed within the previous two years.

Written by Amanda Ahmed, who has completed a Masters by Research in botanical illustration at Monash University, Caulfield.

Celia Rosser Award for Excellence

The Friends first introduced the Celia Rosser Medal for Botanical Art in 2002 to commemorate Celia Rosser’s significant achievements as a botanical artist. It celebrates her contribution as a technically accomplished artist whose work has both the highest degree of scientific accuracy and artistic excellence.  It also acknowledges her commitment to a long-term body of work of international significance.