Archive for January, 2011
At the end of last year, I was privileged to see in the library of London’s Natural History Museum the original watercolours of Ferdinand Bauer, illustrator of the priceless Flora Graeca and botanical artist to the Flinder’s expedition to map the Australian coastline at the dawn of the 19th century. In his native Austria, Bauer had learned and developed a numerical code for designating shades of colour in his field sketches, to enable him to complete the image many years later with such accuracy as to produce some of the most precise botanical drawings ever made. This, however, is not the main reason they are so exceptional.
As each watercolour appeared out of its place in the box, a light emerged, almost like an aura, and the artist’s greens and vermilions stood out in hundreds of dimensions so that the plant moved a little to its other side, caught in its own shadow. Ferdinand Bauer’s images, in fact, transcended reality. They were the work of a steady hand and an unwavering certainty about his art which led him into conflict with his employers, who had more difficulty seeing beyond the parameters of the mundane or, more accurately, their own part in them.
Such beauty carries neither price nor recognition, and did not bring Bauer a significant place for himself in history. Indeed, he does not seem to have sought it. His images, however, remain a hint at something greater than the world is ready for, as it cannot find a way to put it to use, and should not, in fact, be trying. Each time he completed one of his drawings, he captured the plant almost on the edge of his vision, out of the corner of his eye, and on the limits of the plant’s own being, as though it were about to slip into another. It is at once a single moment in time and the beginnings of infinity, a lateral dimension we can only comprehend by not trying.
Perhaps this is Bauer’s real legacy.