Ellis Rowan – The Flower Hunter

I was so disappointed at not being able to get to the exhibition of Ellis Rowan artwork a few years back – Canberra was the closest the exhibition came to Northern NSW. However I did manage to pick up the beautiful catalogue from the exhibition.

They have just released a biography – The Flower Hunter – The Remarkable Life of Ellis Rowan by Christine & Michael Morton-Evans. It seems a little difficult to find – even Amazon books did not have a front page image. A good friend of mine sought it out as a gift for me.

I missed the Sunday Arts programs on ABC the last couple of weeks (I usually have it running in the background whilst working) but fortunately the Betty Churcher series ‘Hidden Treasures’ can be downloaded – they had an episode about Ellis Rowan. I think it is well worth a download.

Ellis Rowan – as the title of the book implies was remarkable. I would describe her as ‘fearsome’ – exploring even the wilds of New Guinea in full immaculate dress of her times! She searched out and found many species of flowers and plants throughout the world – painting them as botanical works. Her later works are vibrant and bring the flowers alive to many Australians who were still coming to terms with this wild region in comparison to genteel England. She said “I would travel the world in search of flowers rare and wonderful, travel countries inaccessible, as well as those which offered difficulties only imaginary”. She also managed to trump the male ‘star artists’ of the time – Tom Roberts and Frederick McCubbin, to win the Centennial Art Prize in 1888 creating quite a stir with a formal complaint being made by the Victorian Arts Society! Fancy giving the prize to a female flower painter!! It seems that although things change in some respects the nose thumbing towards ‘flower painters’ in the arts community still echoes. Ellis Rowan was truly both a remarkable person and artist.
The National Library of Australia has an online collection which was bought by the government for 5,000 pounds after a quite interesting debate in parliament as the original asking price was 20,000 as part of her estate. It seems such a small amount for such a large amount of work. I suppose little changes in the ‘art market’ for many artists.

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