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Ferdinand Lucas Bauer (1760 - 1826)

Fifty-two drawings of animals observed in Australia between 1801 and 1803 during the voyage of HMS Investigator, under the command of Captain Matthew Flinders

The Investigator Voyage

When the British Government commissioned Matthew Flinders (1774-1814) in January 1801 to take command of the Investigator and undertake a survey of the Australian coastline, it sent with him a party of scientists and artists to make natural history observations of the places visited. The members of the party were chosen on the advice of Sir Joseph Banks, President of the Royal Society and director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. They included Robert Brown, a medical practitioner and botanist, and Ferdinand Lucas Bauer, a Viennese artist who was to work under Brown's supervision.

Studies of a Wombat
Ferdinand Lucas Bauer was a son of the court painter to the Prince of Liechtenstein. He was born in Feldsberg (now Valtice in the Czech Republic), but then a small town north of Vienna, in Austria, on 20 January 1760. In around 1780 work took Bauer to Vienna where he was employed as botanical artist to Baron Nicolaus von Jacquin, the Professor of Botany and Chemistry at Vienna University. In Vienna Bauer met Dr John Sibthorp, an English gentleman botanist and the Sherardian Professor of Botany at the University of Oxford, in 1784. Sibthorp was on his way to Greece and the Levant in search of the medicinal plants first described by Dioscorides in the first century anno domini. Bauer joined Sibthorp on the expedition in 1786 and was employed to draw and paint the plants, landscapes and animals seen on the way. In 1787 when the expedition was over, Bauer was persuaded to accompany Sibthorp back to Oxford taking the 1500 sketches he had made with him. There, from December 1787 until 1794, under Sibthorp's direction, Bauer produced watercolours for the 966 plates in Flora Graeca, (1806-1840), one of the botancial masterpieces of all time. Meanwhile, as Ferdinand Bauer was employed at Oxford his elder brother, Franz Andreas Bauer (1758-1840), an equally talented botanical artist, had joined the staff at Kew Gardens in 1790 as botanical artist at an annual salary of £300. Franz Bauer remained working at Kew for fifty years until his death in 1840. Banks would have been well aware of the younger Ferdinand's work at Oxford and, from 1794, in London, and in 1801 Banks offered him the opportunity to travel to Australia, an offer which he gladly accepted at a salary of 300 guineas per annum plus expenses. The Investigator sailed from Spithead on 18 July 1801 and reached King George Sound (in present-day Western Australia), on the south-western coast of Australia, in December 1801. Between December 1801 and 1803 Bauer circumnavigated Australia and visited Timor in 1803. At every landfall the civilian party went ashore to explore the country and record their observations of the local wildlife. These excursions were not without danger from venomous animals, the Aborigines and other factors, and some crewmen lost their lives. By 1803 Flinders had successfully completed his survey and was ready to return to England. Flinders was concerned that the condition of the Investigator had become unseaworthy and it was unsafe to attempt to sail home in it. He left the Colony on another boat intending to bring a replacement for the Investigator on which to take the men back to England. Meanwhile, Bauer stayed in New South Wales from June 1803-August 1804, and visited Norfolk Island for eight months from August 1804 until March 1805. He then returned to Sydney and joined the Investigator on 23 May 1805 for its homeward journey. The voyage ended, four years after it commenced, on 13 October 1805 when the Investigator (Flinders mission to commission another boat had been unsuccessful) docked at Liverpool and Flinders, Bauer and Brown stepped ashore.

Although there are only fifty-two drawings in this collection they are remarkable in several ways. Most apparent is the beauty of the living animal Bauer has captured with fidelity in these striking pictures. After seeing them eminent art historians have unhesitatingly described Bauer as one of the world's greatest natural history painters. They are not just pretty pictures of colourful exotic animals either. Many of the animals were unknown to Europeans before Bauer painted them and they are the earliest scientific records of their discovery. In the absence of preserved specimens, at least three of the paintings have served as the iconotype on which the first published names and scientific descriptions are based. Potentially, some of the others also could have been the basis for the first descriptions except that at the beginning of the nineteenth century there were not enough knowledgeable people in England to work on them. Over the next fifty years, as the British colony in Australia prospered, more Europeans visited to explore and collect specimens for the great European museums. Many of the same animals Bauer had seen and painted were re-discovered, taken to Europe and, under more favourable conditions, eventually named and described in scientific publications.

These paintings were not produced during the Investigator voyage but in a studio, sometime after Bauer returned to England in 1805, probably around 1811-1813. The reason is described in a letter Bauer wrote to his brother Franz dated 8 April 1803 when he was in Timor: “With regard to Natural History I have, since we left Port Jackson [Sydney], made sketches of 500 species of plants but only 90 of animals, mostly birds. I have not completed anything and will not be able to do so either. The paper which I took with me on this cruise has gone mouldy because of the dampness and warmth of the cabin and is covered with spots of mould and can no longer be painted on or used for any kind of painting” (Norst:104). By the end of the voyage Bauer had a total of over 2000 pencil sketches of animals and plants. He annotated the sketches with numbers, the numbers corresponding to an elaborate colour code. From the 303 zoological pencil sketches (Norst:68) and by reference to his colour code Bauer produced the forty-six finished watercolour paintings and the six pencil drawings in the collection, perhaps on a commission from the Admiralty which had sent him to Australia. We can only guess that the date Bauer painted them was around 1811 from the evidence of a watermark date “1811” which is present in some of the drawing paper. The paintings are unsigned and there are no manuscript annotations of any sort on them. The collection was in the possession of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty until 1843 when it was presented to The Natural History Museum, London. None of the zoological drawings was published in any contemporary account. Flinders, who had just finished writing an account of the Investigator expedition before he died in 1814 - A Voyage to Terra Australia, 1814 - did not include any of Bauer's zoological drawings. It is only now, 200 years later, that they have all been published for the first time, and in the original size, by Alecto Historical Editions. Bauer did, however, publish a small number of his Australian botanical paintings in a book he began entitled Illustrationes Florae Novae Hollandiae (1813-17) but it proved to be a personal and financial disaster for Bauer and he did not complete it. Greatly disappointed, Bauer returned to Austria in 1814 taking the pencil sketches with him. Most are now in the Naturhistorisches Museum in Vienna. Bauer died in Austria in 1826.

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