Title: Early New Zealand Botanical Art

Author: F. Bruce Sampson

Publication details: Reed Methuen, 1985, Auckland

Digital publication kindly authorised by: F. Bruce Sampson

Part of: New Zealand Texts Collection

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Early New Zealand Botanical Art

The watercolours

The watercolours

Of Parkinson's 925 plant illustrations, 676 were unfinished. At first he had been able to complete his botanical paintings, but by the time he reached New Zealand, he could not find time to finish each drawing. Soon after his return to London, Banks engaged a team of artists, at his own expense, to finish the paintings, botanical and otherwise. These artists did not simply complete each painting that Parkinson had begun; rather they copied Parkinson's incomplete illustration on to a fresh sheet of paper and then completed it. One can compare, at the British Museum (Natural History), London, Parkinson's incomplete illustrations with the finished versions.

The artists who were responsible for completing most of the botanical paintings were James and John Frederick Miller, John Cleveley jun. and Frederick Polydore Nodder. As I have commented, they followed Parkinson's style closely, and one cannot always tell without examining signatures which artist completed which painting, or even which paintings Parkinson completed himself. James and John Frederick Miller were sons of Johann Sebastian Miller (1715-ca. 1790), a distinguished German artist and engraver, who was an admirer of Linnaeus and particularly interested in botanical illustration. He anglicised the family name when he moved to England. John Cleveley junior added the "jun." to his name because his father, who had the same name, painted nautical subjects. These three artists so impressed Banks that he engaged them to accompany him on Cook's second voyage. When this plan did not eventuate, they accompanied him to Iceland in 1772. Frederick Polydore Nodder (who died about 1800) illustrated a number of botanical works and by 1788 was referred to as "botanical painter to her Majesty"

Of the signed illustrations of New Zealand plants that were completed by the above artists, most were by Frederick Nodder. James and John Frederick Miller completed a number too, and John Cleveley jun. finished four of them. Another artist, Thomas Burgis, finished a single New Zealand plant illustration. It should be noted that all twenty-four drawings of New Zealand ferns, most of which were finished by J. F. Miller, are uncoloured, unlike all other New Zealand plant illustrations.

One hundred and forty-six of the completed watercolours of plants are shown, reduced in size, in Sydney Parkinson (D. J. Carr (ed.), 1983). Most are reproduced in colour, and twenty of these illustrations are of New Zealand plants.

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