"There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion" Francis Bacon 1561-1626

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Leaf of the Day: Peacock Iris and an Upsidedown Sloth

The trials of the natural history artist ..the problem with models.
I chose this pretty iris to draw today as I needed to try a more delicate flower with the coloured pencils. It is dietes bicolor, the peacock iris or Spanish iris.
If I had been doing this drawing for myself and without the botanical painting course in mind I would have put in a dark background to set off the pretty delicate colours and to show the flower as we would normally see it. I was in two minds whether or not to put one in. There are certain conventions or purist schools of thought that would not include any background and there is a distinction between Botanical Art and Botanical illustration. Botanical Illustration is more scientific and is usually for the purpose of identification of a species. Botanical Art allows for more personal interpretation whilst still keeping to the principles of accuracy and detail.
I have spent quite a few hours this week thinking about all this and looking hard at the work of contemporary botanical artists. I do see back grounds now. I may add one to this piece later.
Sadly I wont be able to use the same flower as it has now defiantly curled up its petals into a tight fist and is about to drop off its stem. One day that's all I had. I am getting very tempted to use photographs. I am going to write about this in another post because its an interesting discussion for artists and for buyers of art.

Identification of species pre camera, of course would rely on seeing the actual object or someone making a drawing from it or sometimes working blind from just a verbal description.
There is an exhibition at the Queens Gallery in Buckingham Palace London "Amazing Rare Things" created in collaboration with David Attenborough. It is an exhibition of Natural History drawings which date from the late fifteenth century to the early eighteenth century, "a period when European knowledge of the world’s flora and fauna was transformed by voyages of discovery to Africa, Asia and the Americas. Through painstaking examination and description, Leonardo da Vinci, the collector Cassiano dal Pozzo, Wenceslaus Hollar, Alexander Marshal, Maria Sibylla Merian and Mark Catesby hoped to comprehend the natural riches of an ever-expanding world. "
DO go to the website ( above) to see the work even if you can't get to the exhibition..(and there is a book too.)

David Attenborough describes beautifully the dilemma which must have faced the pre-camera artist here in relation to dal Pozzo's Sloth. Dal Pozzo commissioned artists to draw for him, probably from specimens and skins, so have a kind thought for the artist confronted with the skin of a 3 toed sloth. He did his best and gave us a fiercesome beast with sharp teeth teetering along on its tip toes. How was he to know this strange creature spent its life suspended from a tree branch.. what an absurd notion!







Collection of
Cassiano dal Pozzo
Artist unknown 1626




But it's lovely, isn't it .. just for the very fact of its careful and earnest inaccuracy. The exhibition continues until September, its on my list.
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Peacock Iris


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