Monday, October 19, 2009

More on Ellis Rowan (1848-1922)

This woman fascinates me. Some notes extracted from the National Library publication of 2002 The Flower Hunter: Ellis Rowan describe her - "painter, naturalist, writer and explorer ...for almost 50 years she travelled to remote parts of Australia, India, Europe, America and New Guinea in pursuit of exotic flowers and wildlife to paint....petite, plucky and always dressed immaculately... suffered bruises, black eye, occasional fever, stinging nettles, mosquito bites and sunburn....dangled by ropes over precipices...suffered from malaria". Other "highlights" of her life -
  • incurred the wrath and indignation of her (male) fellow painters (including Fred McCubbin, Louis Buvelot and Tom Roberts) by scooping the pool in a number of major awards in the late 19th century
  • criticised by Norman Lindsay who described her paintings as vulgar (excuse me?)
  • acclaimed internationally, works were collected by royalty 
  • became the most recognised and commercially viable painter in Australia and a household name at that time (in a period when the art world was dominated by men)
  • had a facelift, died her hair red with henna and reduced her age by 10 years
  • was still painting bird of paradise species in the wilds of New Guinea at age 68
  • produced over 3000 works during her lifetime
  • now practically unknown despite her huge legacy
How cool is that!

A major exhibition of (a portion of) her works was organised by the National Library of Australia in 2002/2003 in order to make her art more widely known and available and "to help establish her rightful place in Australian art".  Her painting of Pandorea jasminoides (and Clematis aristata) - reproduction below - is held by the National Gallery of Victoria and is rated a public favourite in the collection.

A new publication about her life is The Flower Hunter: the remarkable life of Ellis Rowan by Christine and Michael Morton-Evans (Simon and Schuster, 2008)

1 comment:

Hels said...

I love Ellis Rowan's work and have created a link to your blog, many thanks.

Just one comment. I wonder if it is true that she became the most recognised and commercially viable painter in Australia and a household name at that time. My gut feeling is that while people thought she was really talented at what she did, it wasn't really Art.

Art and Architecture, mainly