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Bauer, Ferdinand Lukas (1760–1826)

by L. A. Gilbert

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

Ferdinand Lukas Bauer (1760-1826), botanical artist, was born on 20 January 1760, at Feldsberg, Austria, the youngest of three sons of Lukas Bauer, court painter to the Prince of Liechtenstein. Orphaned next year, the brothers later came to the notice of a priest, Norbert Boccius, who encouraged them in botanical drawing and commissioned Ferdinand, when only 15, to paint a large number of highly finished flower studies.

About 1780 the brothers moved to Vienna where they met Baron Nikolaus von Jacquin, then working on his Icones Plantarum Rariorum, 1-3 (Vienna 1781-93). He employed Ferdinand and his brother Franz in illustrating this work. This experience and training determined their future. When Professor John Sibthorpe of Oxford visited Vienna he was so impressed by Ferdinand's work that he engaged him as his natural history painter; they left Vienna in 1786 and travelled widely in the Mediterranean before going to England at the end of 1787. Ferdinand Bauer made about 1000 coloured drawings of plants, 363 of animals and 131 of landscapes during this expedition, from which ultimately resulted the publication of the magnificent Flora Graeca (London, 1806-40).

In 1800 when a botanical draughtsman was required to accompany Matthew Flinders in the Investigator, Sir Joseph Banks arranged for Ferdinand Bauer to be given the post at £315 a year and for the botanist Robert Brown to be appointed naturalist to the expedition. Bauer worked in close co-operation with Brown both during the actual survey (1801-03) and afterwards, not only painting plant studies in great detail, but also collecting specimens. He was an able botanist, making the dissected parts of flowers and plant organs the subject of highly magnified and remarkably accurate drawings, which no doubt encouraged the study of plant structure. By August 1803 Bauer had made 1000 drawings of plants and 200 of animals, despite the most unfavourable conditions in the decrepit Investigator in which Bauer and Brown returned to England in 1805. By then Bauer had made 2073 drawings, of which some 1540 drawings were of Australian plants and the remainder of plants from Norfolk Island, Timor and the Cape, and of animals from Australia and Norfolk Island.

Bauer worked on his drawings for some years, finishing many of them in the most painstaking detail for publication. Truly Brown claimed that 'considering his minute accuracy, the number of drawings he has made is astonishing'. However, Bauer's perfectionist standards virtually killed his Illustrationes Florae Novae Hollandiae (London, 1813) which was abandoned after publication of only fifteen of his exquisite plates. Franz Bauer, who was botanical artist at Kew Gardens from 1790 to 1840, maintained that Ferdinand could not find anyone capable either of engraving or colouring the plates properly, and consequently had to execute every part of the work with his own hands. Ten more of Ferdinand's plates were published in the atlas to Flinders' A Voyage to Terra Australis (London, 1814). Greatly disappointed at the commercial failure of his Illustrationes, Ferdinand Bauer returned to Austria in 1814, taking much natural history material with him. He died at Hietzing, Vienna, on 17 March 1826.

Some of his drawings were used to illustrate A. B. Lambert's A Description of the Genus Pinus 1-2 (London, 1803-24), J. Lindley's Digitalium Monographia (London, 1821), S. L. Endlicher's Prodromus Florae Norfolkicae (Vienna, 1833), and Iconographia Generum Plantarum (Vienna, 1833), and other works, but the majority remained unpublished, later passing into the collections of the British Museum of Natural History, London, the Naturhistorische Hofmuseum, Vienna, and the University of Göttingen. Bauer was remarkably conscientious and patient, with rare gifts which caused artists and scientists alike to marvel at his achievements with pencil and brush. He and Franz have been hailed as 'two of the finest draughtsmen in the whole history of botanic art'. Flinders named Cape Bauer, Streaky Bay, after his botanical artist, and the name of Bauer is also commemorated by the plant genus Bauera, and by plant species such as Prasophyllum baueri (R. Br.) Poir., Grevillea baueri R. Br. and Eucalyptus baueriana, named by Schauer after Ferdinand.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Britten and G. S. Boulger, A Biographical Index of Deceased British and Irish Botanists, 2nd ed (Lond, 1931)
  • W. Blunt, The Art of Botanical Illustration, 3rd ed (Lond, 1955)
  • J. Lhotsky, ‘Biographical Sketch of Ferdinand Bauer’, London Journal of Botany, 2 (1843), 106-13
  • J. Britten, ‘Ferdinand's Bauer's Drawings of Australian Plants’, Journal of Botany (London), 47 (1909), 140-46
  • W. T. Stearn, ‘Franz and Ferdinand Bauer’, Endeavour, 19 (1960), 27-35.

Citation details

L. A. Gilbert, 'Bauer, Ferdinand Lukas (1760–1826)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bauer-ferdinand-lukas-1754/text1951, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 31 August 2016.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

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