“Two hundred kinds of green”*

*title of post by Virginia Mills, Archivist for Early Collections, Royal Society, 5.2.19.

From 2015 essay by Darren Sleep, the Arty Plantsman:

“In 1758 Franz Andreas Bauer was born into an artistic family in Feldsberg, in modern-day Austria. Two of his brothers also became artists; Joseph (1756-1831) and Ferdinand (1760-1826). Their father, Lukas Bauer, was court painter to the Count of Liechtenstein. It seems likely that, like their contemporary Redouté, they would have received their artistic training at the hands of their father had fate not intervened. Sadly Lukas Bauer passed away in 1762, when Joseph, Ferdinand and Franz were in infancy. Their mother, Therese, is thought to have given her boys some initial artistic training and encouragement but during their childhood the pivotal person in their education and artistic direction was the recently arrived physician and sub-prior at a nearby convent: Norbert Boccius. From the early 1770s Boccius became engaged in producing what became known as the ‘Codex Liechtenstein’, which comprised illustrations of around three thousand plants, both native and exotic. Well over half of these illustrations (the earlier volumes) were produced by the Bauer brothers. This must have been a very intensive apprenticeship which was to have a profound effect on the direction of the careers of Franz and Ferdinand particularly.

The boys left for Vienna in 1780, and came under the influence of the eminent botanist Baron Nikolaus von Jacquin (1727-1817). Jacquin was also a skilled illustrator and was working on his Icones Plantarum Rariorum, produced between 1781 and 1805. Stearn (1960) credits Jacquin with teaching the brothers to truly understand the subjects they were illustrating and, for a time, Jacquin employed them in illustrating his work.

The brothers went their separate ways in the late 1780s. Joseph had returned to Vienna and in 1786 Ferdinand departed with the botanist John Sibthorp and began to carve out his own remarkable path as a botanical artist. Though this essay is about Franz it is impossible to separate the two completely as they had complementary, yet totally different careers going forward. Ferdinand and Sibthorp journeyed through Europe to Greece, Cyprus and Crete and accumulated specimens and illustrations for the Flora Graeca project. Between 1787 and Sibthorp’s death in 1796, Ferdinand was in Oxford with Sibthorp, completing his illustrations. Note that Franz was also in England, at Kew, for much of this time and the two brothers no doubt renewed their association. In 1801, Ferdinand began his greatest adventure as illustrator on the Investigator’s voyage to Australia. This ended with the return to England in 1805. In 1814 Ferdinand returned to Austria where he died in 1826.

Franz continued working with Jacquin until 1788 when he set off with Jacquin’s son Joseph on a tour of the scientific centres of Europe, which included visiting the library and herbarium of Sir Joseph Banks in London. This was another fateful event, for Banks offered Franz the position of illustrator at The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, which Banks controlled. It is clear from Jacquin’s communications to his father that he feared losing Franz to Banks. He was right to be concerned.

By 1790 Franz had indeed taken up the position at Kew, where he worked and lived for the remaining 50 years of his life…

…Franz has historically been in the shadow of his brother Ferdinand because of his less adventurous life and the lack of high profile publication of his work, yet a number of recent authors have given him the recognition he clearly deserves. From a scientific point of view the work of Franz is especially valuable as a result of his keen exploration of the microscopic features of his subjects. During his lifetime Franz did contribute to a number of limited-circulation publications but the majority of his work was simply archived in private collections such as that of his employer, Banks, eventually to find their way to safekeeping in national institutions such as the Natural History Museum in London…”

*Virginia Mills writes:

“…Franz worked by creating detailed preliminary sketches in graphite which he would partially colour, making use of a code of numbers which correlated to specific shades recorded in a colour chart. These would then be used as reference to create a second complete watercolour composition. This system was employed to a greater extent by Ferdinand, who was the greater traveller of the two, going on expeditions to document flora and fauna from Greece (Flora Graeca) to Australia (Prodromus Florae Novae Hollandiae et Insulae van Diemen). Working quickly in the field, Ferdinand did not have time to colour his drawings and so developed an increasingly complex and detailed colour code, listing 1,000 different shades including 200 kinds of green and adding letters to indicate texture and sheen…”

From Katherine Tyrrell’s ‘Botanical Art and Artists‘ website:

“The drawings he made while at Kew have much scientific value and at the same time are also a historic record of the development of botanical art, plant science and Kew Gardens at a time when it was expanding rapidly.

Franz Bauer was elected a Fellow of the Linnaean Society in 1804 and additionally became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1821.

He died at Kew on 11 December 1840 at the age of 82 and was buried locally in Kew Parish Church – St Anne’s on Kew Green – next to Zoffany and Gainsborough.  There is a monument to him inside the church.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s