Platypus watercolour by Ferdinand Bauer

Platypus, Ornithorhynchus anatinus, watercolour by Ferdinand Bauer based on an initial pencil drawing he made in 1803

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Art highlights by two masters of scientific illustration

Ferdinand Bauer's platypus watercolour, based on sketches he made while on the HMS Investigator voyage in the early 1800s, was among the first attempts by a European artist to record Australian flora and fauna.

Both Ferdinand and his brother Franz were highly talented natural history artists who produced scientifically accurate work.

Most of the species that Ferdinand sketched in Australia were plants, but he also made drawings of the country's unique animals, such as the platypus. This egg-laying mammal intrigued Europeans when they saw images of it for the first time, with its beaver-like body and duck's bill.

Relatively unknown during their lifetimes, both brothers are recognised today as pioneers of scientific natural history illustration, particularly in their use of microscopes to draw specimens in intricate detail.

Different life paths

Despite their shared vocation, the Bauer brothers followed very different life paths. Ferdinand explored the world and drew unrecorded species, while Franz settled in Britain as the resident artist at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew.

Gloxinia watercolour by Franz Bauer

Watercolour of gloxinia, Sinningia speciosa, painted by Franz Bauer in the early nineteenth century

For 50 years Franz recorded plant species newly introduced to Britain from around the world via Kew, such as this gloxinia from Brazil. He specialised in orchids, using microscopes to study and differentiate species, and collaborated with Sir Joseph Banks, the then President of the Royal Society, to illustrate his scientific papers on agricultural pests and their control.

In the collection

Original Bauer brothers artworks are cared for in the Museum Library's collection.

Find out more about the Bauer brothers and their collection at the Museum.