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The world’s greatest natural history artist

Friday 17 November 2017

Renowned botanical artist and colour savant Ferdinand Bauer could remember 1,000 shades by the time he reached Sydney in 1801, as part of Matthew Flinders’ epic circumnavigation of Australia.

And it was in Australia that Bauer perfected his extraordinary colour-coding system of sketching the colony’s exotic flora and fauna, numbering the parts and later finishing the works in his London studio with watercolours matched to his colour charts.

The fascinating and little-known story of Ferdinand Bauer and his unique practice of ‘painting by numbers’ has been brought to life by the State Library of NSW, in collaboration with eminent botanical scholar Professor David Mabberley.

The State Library’s ground-breaking website Painting by Numbers, created by the Library’s DX Lab, brings together for the first time over 300 exquisite illustrations and watercolours by Bauer from leading museums and libraries in Vienna, the UK and Australia.

Website visitors will be able to view the incredible detail in Bauer’s work, experiment with his signature palettes and explore how he turned his field drawings into detailed studio watercolours.

The DX Lab has used the latest web technologies to enable Bauer’s annotated drawings from the Natural History Museum, Vienna to be viewed alongside his finished watercolours from the Natural History Museum, London for the first time.

The website content has been curated by Professor Mabberley whose lavish new book, Painting by Numbers: The Life and Art of Ferdinand Bauer (NewSouth Publishing), has just been released.

Professor David Mabberly and the DX Lab’s Paula Bray are available for interviews.

Visit the Painting by Numbers website – dxlab.sl.nsw.gov.au/painting‐by‐numbers

Painting by Numbers: the Life and Art of Ferdinand Bauer (NewSouth Publishing) is available from the Library Shop (RRP $69.99, pre‐orders available).

To celebrate the launch of Painting by Numbers, the State Library of NSW will display a selection of botanical drawings, maps and rare books related to Bauer’s visit to the colony. Botanical Inspirations will be on show in the Library’s Amaze Gallery until 28 January 2018.

Download full media release (PDF 362 KB)