Cameo – Sir Joseph Banks

Banks’ Florilegium is the world’s largest 20th century fine art printing project and has been exhibited all over the world.  It is a collection of copperplate engravings of plants collected by Sir Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander while they accompanied Captain James Cook on his voyage around the world between 1768 and 1771. They included plants from Madeira, Brazil, Tierra del Fuego, the Society Islands, New Zealand, Australia and Java.

Banks’ and Solander’s specimens were studied aboard the HM Barque Endeavour by Sydney Parkinson. He drew each specimen and made notes on their colour, and for some species he completed watercolour illustrations. When they returned to London, Banks hired 5 artists to create watercolours of all of Parkinson’s drawings. Between 1771 and 1784 Banks hired 18 engravers to create the copperplate line engravings from the 743 completed watercolours at a considerable cost. The Florilegium was not printed in Banks’ lifetime and he bequeathed the plates to the British Museum.

Some of the plates were eventually printed, and between 1900 and 1905, James Britten and the British Museum issued prints of 315 of the plant engravings in black ink, under the title Illustrations of Australian Plants. Others were included in black and white in the 1973 book Captain Cook’s Florilegium.

The images seen here are also part of The Parliament House Art Collection which holds 337 of over 743 images from a rare 1982 printed edition undertaken by the British Museum of Natural History. (Copied from the House of Representatives Annual Report 2003-04 courtesy of the Parliament House Art Collection, Department of Parliamentary Services, Canberra ACT)

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