natural history artist, was born on 20 January 1760 at Feldberg, Austria, third son of Lucas Bauer and his wife, Theresia. He was the younger brother of an equally celebrated botanical artist, Franz Andreas Bauer (1758-1840), who from 1788 onwards spent most of his life at Kew portraying cultivated plants, some from Australia. After their father’s early death the two boys were cared for and educated by Norbert Boccius (1729-1806), prior of the monastery of the Barmherzigen Brüder in Feldberg. Boccius was a fully qualified and esteemed physician with strong botanical interests who founded a botanic garden in the monastery and assembled a collection of 2,750 botanical drawings ultimately occupying fourteen volumes. Making drawings for this collection under Boccius’s careful supervision taught the boys the art of botanical illustration and developed their skill.

From Feldberg, both Franz and Ferdinand went to Vienna about 1780 to work for Nikolaus Joseph von Jacquin (1727-1817), professor of botany and chemistry and director of the botanic garden of the University of Vienna. Jacquin was himself a skilled botanical artist and the author of superbly illustrated folio botanical works. He employed the Bauer brothers to illustrate his Icones Plantarum Rariorum (1781-93), thereby fostering their extraordinary talent for observing and accurately portraying minute detail. Ferdinand also studied landscape painting under J.C. Brand.

The arrival of John Sibthorp (1758-96) in Vienna in 1784 altered the whole course of Ferdinand Bauer’s life. Sibthorp was the Sherardian professor of botany in Oxford and, on the recommendation of Boccius and Jacquin, he induced Ferdinand to accompany him as 'my painter’ on a trip to study plants in Greece and Asia Minor. They passed through Italy to Naples in the spring of 1786, then took ship to Crete and, in the company of John Hawkins (1761-1841), Sibthorp’s brother-in-law, visited many Aegean islands, Cyprus, mainland Greece, Smyrna (Izmir), Mount Athos, Bursa and Constantinople (Istanbul). Sibthorp, with Bauer and his numerous drawings of plants, animals and places, returned to England in December 1791.

At Oxford Bauer set to work to produce perfected drawings suitable for engraving as illustrations to the Flora Graeca planned by Sibthorp. When Sibthorp revisited Asia Minor and Greece in 1794, he left Bauer in Oxford. It was a fatal venture, for Sibthorp contracted tuberculosis and died in 1796, having made provision in his will for the preparation and publication of the Flora Graeca with John Hawkins as an executor. This was published in 10 volumes between 1806 and 1840, with 966 plates by Ferdinand Bauer and text by James Edward Smith and John Lindley. Bauer’s original drawings are at Oxford. They not only include plants but landscapes, fish, birds and snakes (which have never been published). The parts of plants on his uncoloured drawings made when travelling are annotated with numbers, from which it is evident that he employed a private colour chart with at least 217 hues and tones of colour: numbers 180-3, for example, refer to yellows, 130-4 to greens. He used the same system on Flinders’s voyage.

Ferdinand Bauer’s second opportunity to travel came when he was appointed natural history artist for Matthew Flinders’s surveying voyage to Australia aboard the Investigator in 1801. Bauer was now 41, supremely attuned by ability and experience to delineate the little-known plants of Australia. Flinders, the captain, and Robert Brown (1773-1858), the naturalist, were 27. The Investigator reached Western Australia in December 1801; it stayed for 24 days in King George Sound, an area floristically so rich that Brown and Bauer gathered some 500 species. After passing eastwards along the Great Australian Bight and making landings whenever possible, the Investigator arrived at Port Jackson in May 1802. A stay here of 12 weeks gave Bauer and Brown the opportunity to study plants of New South Wales. The Investigator then sailed northward along the eastern coast of Australia, rounded Cape York, and coasted the Gulf of Carpentaria, which Flinders carefully surveyed, thereby providing Bauer with more plants for illustration. The dangerously rotten state of the ship, so damp as to damage specimens, paper and drawings, then caused Flinders to discontinue his survey and return to Port Jackson, reached on 8 June 1803.

On his return voyage to England, Flinders was interned by the French at Mauritius and did not get home until October 1810. Fortunately Brown and Bauer had stayed in New South Wales. In 1804-05 Bauer visited Norfolk Island, collecting many specimens and making drawings, some of which Endlicher used for his Prodromus Florae Norfolkicae (1833). He and Brown returned to England late in 1805, bringing home botanical specimens of about 3,000 species, together with about 1,500 drawings of plants and 230 of animals. While Brown stayed in London studied the specimens, Bauer perfected his drawings. Original uncoloured sketches in Vienna reveal by their annotation with numbers that when an Australian locality yielded too many plants for immediate painting he used his elaborate personal colour chart to record their colours accurately. In 1813 Bauer published three parts of Illustrationes Florae Novae Hollandiae , but the disappointing sales caused him to abandon the enterprise. His work on the Flora Graeca completed, Bauer returned to Austria in 1814 and settled at Hietzing, in Vienna. He continued his artistic work, portraying both wild and cultivated plants and, ever with a zest for travel, made excursions into the Alps until he became seriously ill in 1825. He died on 17 March 1826 at Hietzing.

For their elegance, their meticulous accuracy and their wealth of exquisite detail, Ferdinand Bauer’s illustrations of Australian plants are the most beautiful and informative that have ever been made. Only 15 were published in colour in his Illustrationes (1813) and a further 25 in Stearn & Blunt, Australian Flower Paintings (1976). Comparison of these Australian drawings with his earlier Flora Graeca plates done for Sibthorp, a botanist of the Linnaean tradition which emphasised the number of flower parts, reveals the strong influence of Robert Brown. Brown’s penetrating interest in flower, fruit and seed structure led Bauer to portray not only microscopic embryonic details but even pollen grains. Other published illustrations are in A.B. Lambert, A Description of the Genus Pinus (1803-24), J. Sibthorp & J.E. Smith, Flora Graeca (1806-40), M. Flinders, A Voyage to Terra Australis (1814), J. Lindley, Digitalium Monographia (1821), S. Endlicher, Prodromus Florae Norfolkicae (1833) and Endeavour , vol. 19 (1960). In 1989 the British Museum (Natural History) published Dr Marlene J. Norst’s Ferdinand Bauer: Australian Natural History Drawings and in 1998 the Historic Houses Trust (NSW) mounted an exhibition with accompanying book by Peter Watts on Bauer’s Australian work.

Bauer’s original drawings for the Flora Graeca are in the Department of Botany in Oxford and those of Australian and Norfolk Island plants and animals are in the Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna. 236 perfected drawings of plants and 49 of animals are in the British Museum (Natural History), London. The National Library of Australia owns a gouache, Stuartia malachodendron . Bauer’s unpublished drawings of Greek landscapes are in Oxford and Göttingen (Universitäts Bibliothek). Two volumes of watercolours of forty species of passion-flowers (including an Australian species, Passiflora cinnabarina ), evidently done after 1814, were in the possession of the Horticultural Society of London until sold in 1859, then in the Preussische Staatsbibliothek, Berlin, until 1941, and now in the Jagiellon Library, Cracow. The generic name Bauera (Banks ex Andrews) for a small group of Australian shrubby plants commemorates the two Bauer brothers, Franz and Ferdinand.

Stearn, William T.
Date written:
Last updated: