22 August 2007


The latest Curtis's Botanical Magazine features an extraordinary illustration of the long-extinct Norfolk Island endemic Solanum bauerianum, reconstructed from Ferdinand Bauer's original drawings by Marion Westmacott:

Solanum bauerianum As with all his expedition field drawings, those of Solanum bauerianum are marked with numbers referring to a colour-code, each number referring to a different shade. Bauer used simple codes when working in Europe, that with 150 shades being preserved in the Real Jardín Botánico in Madrid, though a more elaborate one with 250 shades used for drawings to become Sibthorp’s Flora Graeca, has never been found (Lack & Ibáñez 1997, Lack 1999). For his Pacific work, Bauer devised a system with a thousand shades [emphasis mine]. Although it is also lost (if it ever existed in full), it has been possible (Pignatti-Wikus et al. 2000), by comparing the real colours of living plants in Western Australia with the numbers (2–994) used in extant Bauer sketches of the same species there, to reconstruct it.

There were a hundred different shades each of red, purple to pink, pink to mauve, and lilac and violet to blue, two hundred shades of green, a hundred each of yellow, orange, brown and white through grey to black. He also used cryptic abbreviated German and English words to designate texture and shininess. Bauer prepared a field sketch from living material before it faded, adding the numbers to indicate the colour shades to be used later to work up the finished drawing in watercolour. Such an elaborate code seems never to have been used by any other artist. Unwieldy as it seems, it allows the most sensitive depiction of colours of the living plant.

David Mabberley, Erika Pignatti-Wikus, and Christa Riedl-Dorn, "An Extinct Tree 'Revived'," Curtis's Botanical Magazine 24 (3) (2007), 190–195. At Blackwell-Synergy.

Note that the article is copyrighted by everyone, including Kew and Blackwell, and the illustration presumably by Marion Westmacott as well. Certainly Curtis's deserves credit for their work, which is not cheap for obvious reasons, but the danger is that such a rare publication will remain unknown to its audience. Anyway, the above is meant as a fair use indication of the interest of the article, the skill of the illustrator, and the excellence of the magazine, and why one might want to subscribe.

Although it isn't Bauer's sexiest work, his illustrations for Karl Friedrich Philipp von Martius's Historia naturalis palmarum, scanned by MOBOT, give a sense at least of his incredible precision.

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