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  Ferdinand Lukas Bauer
1760 - 1826

Ferdinand Bauer and his brother, Franz, were matchless botanical illustrators. "Their work was the equal of Redouté, and even surpassed him in their attention to detail. They came nearer to perfection in the field of [botanical illustration] than any artist before or since." (7:27).

Nevertheless, their accomplishments remain relatively unknown. Why so? Their published works are in rare and expensive volumes, or lie in seldom-consulted technical books. Also, their stunning drawings are tucked away in museums-seldom shown to the public at large (7). Ferdinandís drawings of Australia are in the British Museum, as are his original sketches for Lambertís Genus pinus. The original watercolor drawings for Sibthrop and Smithís Flora Graeca are housed at Oxford University.

Ferdinand and his brothers, Joseph (the eldest) and Franz (b. 1758) were born in Feldsberg, Lower Austria. Their father Lukas, died when the children were in infancy, as did their mother before him. Lukas was a painter of religious pictures in Moravia, who later became the court painter to the Count of Liechtenstein, in Feldsburg. Father Norbert Boccius, Prior of the Monastery of the Merciful Brothers in Feldsberg, took the orphaned boys under his wing and taught them drawing. A keen botanist, he was developing his manuscript for Hortus bontanicus. Taking special notice of Ferdinandís drawings, he hired him to paint a collection of highly finished miniature-flower studies that eventually became a part of the Liechtenstein collection. (1)

Around 1780 the three brothers, well prepared by Boccius, departed Feldsberg for Vienna to pursue their careers as artists. Franz and Ferdinand went on to become distinguished botanical illustrators, while Joseph eventually returned to Feldsberg, and following in his fatherís footsteps, became associated with Count Liechtensteinís as the curator of his art collection.

In Vienna the Bauers met Nikolaus von Jacquin, a distinguished scientist who produced many fine illustrated books. He immediately recognized the talents of Franz and Ferdinand, and under his guidance, the two perfected their skills as botanical illustrators: they learned that botanical drawing is an exacting art, demanding an understanding of the objects portrayed as well as grace in their portrayal. The two became familiar with diverse plants and fine-tuned their eyes to exacting observation, and their extraordinary attention to detail became their hallmark.

Four years later the English botanist, John Sibthrop arrived in Vienna to study Dioscoridesí Codex Viobonensis, as background for his forthcoming expedition to the countries bordering the Eastern Mediterranean. The purpose of the expedition was to retrieve Greek medical knowledge of herbal remedies, but as things turned out, it became a modern botanical work. Flora Graeca, the result of the enterprise, described plants unrecorded by the Ancient Greeks. (7:34)

During his Viennese visit, Sibthrop, Professor Botany and curator of the Botanical Garden at Oxford, learned of Franz and Ferdinandís work for Jacquin. He was so taken by their illustrations, that he made a journey to Feldsberg to see for himself the paintings they did for Boccius. The explorer was particularly especially impressed by Ferdinandís artistry, and forthwith engaged him to be the artist on his expedition. In 1786, they left Vienna. (1)

Thus Sibthrop and Bauer began a yearís expedition to the Eastern Mediterranean collecting plants for Flora Graeca. Sibthrop gathered the plants, Bauer pressed and dried them, and produced pencil drawings of the plants and animals in the field. Bauer, who liked to sketch rapidly when working in the field, recorded the colors of his subjects using his code that assigned a unique number to each shade of colors he observed. Later, in the studio, he accurately recreated these colors in a finished drawing. His field sketches "...which are held today by the Department of Plant Sciences at Oxford are surrounded by swarms of numbers."(3)

The expedition lasted from March 1786 to December 1787, during which time Bauer created upwards of one thousand plant sketches, 363 sketches of animals, and painted 131 sepia landscapes of the countries they visited. (4)

Back at Oxford, Sibthrop began to put his notes and specimens in order, as Bauer finished his drawings and began engraving the printing plates for Flora Gracea. Unfortunately, Sibthrop a victim of tuberculosis, died in 1796 leaving much work to be done. Although he had made provision for the posthumous publication of the work, the management process was convoluted, and no one connected with the beginning of the project lived to see its end. Moreover, production costs were excessive so only a limited number of volumes saw the light of day. Yet Stearn (7:34), ranks Flora Gracea as a masterpiece of printing, engraving, color and design, and notes, "...it is the most costly and beautiful book devoted to any flora."

In 1801 Ferdinand Bauer was chosen to accompany Captain Matthew Flinders, of the Royal Navy, aboard the HMS research vessel, Investigator. They would explore the coastline of Australia (then known as New Holland). Bauer served as naturalist illustrator and Robert Brown, as naturalist. Sir Joseph Banks had recommended both men, and paid their expenses.

Two years into the voyage, the Investigator, leaking water badly, was declared unseaworthy. Captain Flinders was forced to temporarily abandon the expedition and return to England for vessel to replace the ailing Investigator.

Bauer and Brown chose not to return with Flinders, so they could explore in Australia to on their own. They returned to England in 1805, laden down with thousands of specimens and hundreds of sketches. These they sought to publish as Illustrations of florae Novea Hollandiae.

Because the large-scale publication of this work failed, Bauer undertook the task himself. He wrote the text and, of course, furnished the illustrations for this publication, which was released in issues between 1806 and 1830. At first, Bauer engraved the printing plates and colored the illustrations himself, managing to print only three issues before publication ceased. There are two possible explanations for this: (a) the venture failed financially; and (b) Bauer could not find talented engravers and colorists to do the remaining work. He evidently was unable or unwilling to continue doing this work himself. It should be noted that he had given up the tedious job of plate engraving previously in order to sail with the Flinders.

Stafleu and Cowen estimate that less than fifty copies of the work were published and that some of these were uncolored. (6:149) Not surprisingly, Illustrations of florae Novea Hollandiae is an extremely rare book. A copy was sold at a Christieís Auction in 1997 for $57,000. (2)

Downhearted by the lack of public interest in his book, Ferdinand left England in 1814, and retired to his native Austria where he continued to live until his death in 1826.

The great biographer, Georg August Pritzel in 1872, described Franz Bauer as "the greatest botanical artist." However, "...it is so hard to distinguish between the paintings of those of his brother Ferdinand that in all fairness one must honor them together as supreme masters of their craft; together they set standards in botanical illustration which have never been surpassed." (7:35)

By Hu Walsh, Library Volunteer
October 23, 2003



  1. Blunt, Wilfrid and William T. Stearn, The art of botanical illustration New edition revised and enlarged. Woodbridge, Suffolk England: The Antique Collectorsí Club Ltd., 1994.
  2. Christieís. An important botanical library, Part 1: The property of a gentleman, June 4, 1997. Lot #4. New York: Christiesí Auctions, 1997.
  3. Lack, H. Walter. Ein Garten Eden, [Masterpieces of botanical illustration.] Köln: Taschen, GmbH, 2001.
  4. Olby, R. [in] Charles Coulston, Ed. Dictionary of scientific biography, Volume xii. New York: Charles Scribnerís Sons, 1970-1980. P. 520.
  5. Saunders, Gill. Picturing Plants: An analytical history of botanical illustration. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press in association with The Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1995.
  6. Stafleu and Richard S. Cowan. Taxonomic literature: a selective guide to botanical taxonomic literature...2nd Edition, Volume 1. Utrecht: Bohn Schectema & Holkema, 1986.
  7. Stearn, W.T. "Franz and Ferdinand Bauer: Masters of Botanical Illustration," [in] Endeavour.
Digitized Works:
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