Guest blogpost: Botanical drawing, Banks and Parkinson

If you visit the Art and Science of Exploration exhibition, you will see detailed paintings of three plant species – in three different versions.  The first version of each plant, drawn by Sydney Parkinson on-board the Endeavour in 1771, is unfinished.  After this is a finished painting, followed by another engraving made from that painting.  The only version which was actually drawing from life, and seen in life by the artist, is the first one by Parkinson.  He was employed by Joseph Banks on Cook’s first voyage to record all of the new plants they found on their journey to Australia, in full colour as they appeared in life, before they were pressed into herbarium specimens.

Parkinson worked extremely hard – it is noted in Banks’s journal that in one 14 day stretch he draw 94 plants!  The botanical discoveries were coming in thick and fast from Banks and his botanist Daniel Solander.  In total he made 955 drawings of plants, 278 of which were finished. Tragically, he died from illness after the Endeavour stopped in Dutch Batavia (Jakarta, Indonesia), where tainted water and malaria took their toll on the crew.  Joseph Banks commissioned painters to make finished paintings from Parkinson’s sketches, and then engravers as you can see from the three images.

Parkinson didn’t only paint plants – he also drew and painted animals, people and places.  He was the first European to draw a kangaroo when the Endeavour was being repaired in northern Australia.  It is probably on this sketch and a specimen that George Stubbs based his oil painting on display in the exhibition.  The kangaroo looks a little strange – Stubbs had never seen a living kangaroo, unlike Parkinson.

The paintings after install
George Stubbs’s kangaroo in the Queen’s House

I had a unique insight into Parkinson’s experience on the Endeavour when I spent six weeks on a replica of the ship, sailing with the BBC for six months along the Australian coast in 2001.  Living like an eighteenth century sailor and gentleman was a wonderful experience, eating little but salt-beef stew and watery porridge, and bathing with salt water.  Like Parkinson I drew in the ship’s Great Cabin, but unlike him I had to help run the ship – climbing the rigging and pulling in sails.

Lucy_endeavour_great cabin

In Great Cabin, image  from Simon Baker’s book

Today I still draw plants from specimens for science, for botanists at  the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.  Usually this is done in black and white pen and ink from dried herbarium specimens, and occasionally in colour from living material in the gardens.

Lucy at her desk (2)

Image by Julia Buckley, RBG Kew

Guest blogpost by Lucy Smith, Botanical Artist and speaker at Lost in Translation seminar as part of the Travellers’ Tails seminar series