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Two koalas, 1804, watercolour
This is one of the first European paintings of a koala (Phascolarctos cinereus). Surprisingly, the native Australian marsupials were not introduced into the Sydney area until August 1803 – when they created a local sensation. Lewin was immediately commissioned by Australian Governor Philip Gidley King to make a drawing. Lewin made multiple copies of the painting – immortalising one of Australia’s first celebrities.
A new discovered animal of the Derwent, c. 1809, watercolour
This image was probably made from a specimen of Tasmanaian tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus) brought up to NSW from Tasmania, possibly by Lewin’s major patron William Paterson, then the lieutenant-governor of Tasmania. Paterson had sent a description of the animal to be published in the Sydney Gazette in 1805 while he was exploring the Island State’s north.Clearly, Lewin had not seen a live thylacine before painting this watercolour – while the stripes on its skin are correct, the shape of the tiger is quite wrong.
Parakeet, 1810, watercolour
This image of a turquoise parrot (Neophema pulchella) is one of a series of four beautiful watercolours Lewin made in 1810, which were found bound into a later copy of his book A natural history of the birds of New South Wales. These drawings all show beautifully illustrated birds posed against a flat background, an effective compositional device that Lewin used extensively from this point onwards.
Superb parrot, c.1817, watercolour
The specimen of parrot (Polytelis swainsonii) featured in this painting was probably collected by John Oxley on an expedition to chart the course of the Lachlan River, NSW, in 1817. An inscription on the back reads “shot on Mr Oxley’s expedition”. It is likely to be a studio painting that was made from a stuffed specimen.
Warty-faced honeysucker, 1813, hand-coloured etching
This illustration of a regent honeyeater (Xanthomyza phrygia) featured in Birds of New South Wales (1813) – the first illustrated book and first natural history book to be published in Australia. Only 13 copies survive and the State Library of NSW has four of them. Many of the plates in this book were originally intended for publication in Lewin’s first book, Birds of New Holland with Their Natural History, which was published in 1808.
Mimosa ruby, 1803, hand-coloured etching
Lewin devoted his first book – Prodromus entomology: natural History of Lepidopterous Insects of New South Wales – to Australian moths (such as Cryptophasa rubescens, pictured). He began preparing it in 1803 and initially struggled to find specimens because he wasn’t used to the habits of Australian insects.
The book was published in England; Lewin prepared the etched plates and sent them to his brother in London for the science and technical description to be recored and acknowleged.
Oiketicus lewinii, 1803, watercolour
This watercolour of a faggot case moth (Clania ignoblis) was made while Lewin was preparing his book Prodromus Entomology. “It showcases his capacity for strong design,” says Richard Neville, curator at the NSW State Library. “To have plants running across a sheet of paper like this now seems conventional and obvious, but when Lewin developed this style it was entirely new and unprecedented.”
The ground parrot of New South Wales, c. 1809, watercolour
As its name suggests, the eastern ground parrot pictured (Pezoporus wallicus) is a ground-dwelling species. It had been well described from the first days of settlement. This particular drawing belonged to Colonel William Paterson, one of Lewin’s earliest and most important patrons.
Variegated Warbler, 1813, hand-coloured etching
Lewin was initially dissatisfied with this plate of a variegated fairy wren (Malurus lamberti) because of the inaccurate depiction of the bird’s head. He did not include it in Birds of New Holland, as he had planned. However, he kept the print, and later included it in the locally produced, Birds of New South Wales.
Crinum peducalatum, 1808, watercolour
This large, striking watercolour of swamp lily is unique for its vivid, modern style, noticeably different from the botanical drawings of the time, which were more focused on plant structure. The watercolour belonged to William Paterson and a version of it titled, The South Head Lyllie of New South Wales (1810) is in the collections of the National Gallery of Australia.
Male & female red kangaroo, 1819, oil painting
The landscape in which Lewin has depicted these kangaroos (Macropus rufus) – the Warrumbungles – was not somewhere he had actually visited. Rather he took a drawing made on John Oxley’s 1818 expedition to the Liverpool Plains and incorporated into it drawings of two kangaroo specimens to make this image. A watercolour version of this drawing was first commissioned by Governor Macquarie, but this oil was purchased by Commissioner John Thomas Bigge.
Telopea speciosissima, c.1805, watercolour
This drawing of a waratah – one of 300 commissioned by Australian Governor Phillip Gidley King – was made in around 1805. It is unclear what motivated Gidley King – an important patron for Lewin – to comission this collection. It stayed in his family until it was purchased by the Mitchell Library in 1911.
Home Topics History & Culture Gallery: Australian’s first nature artist John Lewin
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