South African botanical art : a study of nineteenth- and twentieth-century imagery

Blake, Tamlin (2001-03)

Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2001.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Botanical art consists of a complex combination of scientific fact and aesthetic awareness, and is concerned with more than the realistic representation of a plant and its flowers. It goes beyond the visual description of scientific information and speaks about the contributions artists have made through history to the conventions of both art and science. It contains a unique visual language, conventions which we read intelligently and an evolved tradition, and it is this language and the development of these conventions within the genre of South African botanical art, which this thesis investigates. In South Africa botanical art developed as a direct result of European interest in the flora and the colonisation of this country by the West. A brief history of responses to South African plants is discussed in the Introduction in order to begin to establish an understanding of this tradition and to contextualise the contributions made by 19th-and 20th -century South African botanical artists. Now that postmodernity has called for the reassessment and questioning of 'given truths', alternative ways of assessing botanical art are slowly evolving. Through study and the comparison of botanical art and artists of South Africa their evaluation as artists is reconsidered. This issue of defining art and artists is the subject of Chapter One of this study. Some of the factors that have a bearing on this include: relationships between text and image; art and science; art and illustration; and how society's expectations of gender roles affect the production of botanical art. In order to establish a context from which to discuss plant imagery in South Africa, it is important to study the history and development of botanical art in this country. Chapter Two discusses the emergence and development of this art form and its artists, starting with a short description of people and events from the 1600s and then takes a comprehensive look at developments in the 19th and 20m centuries. For the artists working within the genre of botanical art, the conventions and inventions are often explicitly formulated. It is an art based on the logic, scrutiny and informative tradition of science, where the main objective is to represent a plant's structural essence. Fundamental to our response to botanical art, however, is the style and technique employed by the artist. Chapter Three is devoted to a detailed discussion of the work of selected contemporary South African botanical art and artists. By comparing their work it is possible to establish trends and developments in representation and the role played by mediums and techniques in this highly skilled art form. Since this research has both a theoretical and a practical component, Chapter Four is devoted to discussion of my own work within the botanical art genre. I describe and illustrate several related series of paintings and explore established conventions and ways of developing my own stylistic identity as a botanical artist.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Botaniese kuns bestaan uit 'n komplekse kombinasie van wetenskaplike feite en estetiese bewustheid, en is gemoeid met baie meer as net die realistiese voorstelling van 'n plant en sy blomme. Dit gaan verder as net die blote visuele uitbeelding van wetenskaplike informasie, en behels die bydraes wat kunstenaars deur die geskiedenis tot die konvensies van beide kuns en die wetenskap gemaak het. Botaniese kuns besit 'n unieke visuele taal, konvensies wat intelligent gelees word, en 'n ontwikkelde tradisie. Hierdie tesis ondersoek juis hierdie spesiale taal en ontwikkeling van konvensies binne die genre van Suid-Afrikaanse botaniese kuns. Botaniese kuns in Suid-Afrika het ontwikkel as In direkte gevolg van Europese belangstelling in die flora, en Westerse kolonialisasie van hierdie land. In die Inleidingword daar kortliks gekyk na die geskiedenis van die hantering van Suid-Afrikaanse plante, en het ten doelom eerstens 'n begrip van hierdie tradisie daar te stel, en tweedens om die bydraes van 19de en 20ste eeuse Suid-Afrikaanse botaniese kunstenaars te kontekstualiseer. Sedert Postmodernisme die herevaluering en bevraagtekening van gegewewe waarhede aangewakker het, is die ontwikkeling van alternatiewe maniere van kyk na botaniese kuns stadig besig om plaas te vind. Deur die bestudering en vergelyking van botaniese kuns en kunstenaars van Suid-Afrika, word die botaniese kunstenaar se status as kunstenaar uitgelig. Hierdie kwessie oor die defmieëring van kuns en kunstenaars is die onderwerp van Hoofstuk 1 van hierdie werkstuk. 'n Paar van die faktore wat In invloed op laasgenoemde het, sluit in: verhoudinge tussen beeld en teks; kuns en wetenskap; kuns en illustrasie; en hoe kwessies van geslag soos waargeneem deur die samelewing die produsering van botaniese kuns beïnvloed. Dit is belangrik om die geskiedenis en ontwikkeling van botaniese kuns in Suid-Afrika te bestudeer, sodat daar 'n konteks geskep kan word waarbinne die afbeelding van plante in hierdie land bespreek kan word. Hoofstuk 2 behandel die totstandkoming en ontwikkeling van hierdie kunsvorm en sy kunstenaars, en begin met 'n kort beskrywing van mense en gebeurtenisse van die 1600s wat gevolg word deur 'n uitgebreide kyk na ontwikkelinge gedurende die 19de en 20ste eeue. Vir die kunstenaars wat werk binne die genre van botaniese kuns, is die konvensies en bevindings van die medium dikwels breedvoerig geformuleer. Dit is 'n kunsvorm gebasseer op die logiese, navorsbare en insiggewende tradisie van die wetenskap, waar die hoofdoel die voorstelling van 'n plant se strukturele essensie is. Fundementeel in die benadering tot botaniese kuns is die styl en tegniek wat deur die kunstenaar gebruik word. Hoofstuk 3 word gewy aan 'n gedetailleerde bespreking van die werk van geselekteerde kontemporêre Suid-Afrikaanse bot~iese kuns en kunstenaars. Deur hul werk te vergelyk is dit moontlik om tendense en ontwikkelings in die voorstelling en aanbieding van botaniese kuns te bepaal, en wat die rol van verskillende mediums en tegnieke in hierdie hoogs geskoolde kunsvorm behels. Weens die feit dat hierdie navorsing uit 'n teoretiese en praktiese komponent bestaan, word Hoofstuk 4 gewy aan 'n bespreking van my praktiese werk binne die genre van botaniese kuns. Ek beskryf en illustreer verskeie verwante reekse werke en kyk na bestaande konvensies en die maniere hoe my eie stilistiese identiteit as botaniese kunstenaar kan ontwikkel binne die medium.

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