Wax fruit and vegetable models

Museum Victoria houses a collection of over 1800 beautiful and realistic wax fruit and vegetable models. The bulk of the models were made by museum artists between 1873 and 1960.

Photo of a variety of wax models

A variety of wax models from the Museum Victoria Collection
Photographer: John Broomfield / Source: Museum Victoria

The collection is visually stunning. There are over 50 fruits and vegetables represented, including apple, apricot, avocado, banana, boysenberry, cassava, hops, pineapple, jackfruit, kumquat, lemon, plum, potato, quince, radish, shaddock, tangelo tomato, turnip, walnut and yam.

Accompanying the models are artist sketch books of the earliest pieces and the moulds used to make them.

Victoria’s horticulture on show

The creation of wax models of fruit and vegetable highlights the museum’s active role in documenting and promoting economic and agricultural development in Victoria.

With the beginning of European settlement, the survival of new settlers in Australia depended upon their ability to grow food in an unknown environment. Collecting and experimenting with both native and introduced plants became an important part of the establishment and progress of the colonies.

The design of fruit and vegetable wax models reflects the earliest collection interests of Museum Victoria. In 1870, the Technological and Industrial Museum was established. One of its primary missions was to collect examples of raw materials by which to mount exhibitions on Victoria’s primary industries and illustrate the various processes of manufacture.

The wax fruit and vegetable models were part of the wider collection known as The Economic Botany Collection, which also recorded a diverse selection of plants grown in Australia and overseas. The Economic Botany Collection helped to advertise Victorian agriculture on the world stage.

The International Exhibitions

In the 1870s the Victorian Government asked the Museum Trustees to assemble representations of the products and manufactures of the colony of Victoria for international exhibitions.

Photo of wax tomatoes

Wax tomatoes
Photographer: John Broomfield / Source: Museum Victoria

The popular appeal of the international exhibition lay in the capacity of objects to stir the imagination. The idea of learning through simple observation helps explain the remarkable realism of the first wax fruit and vegetables produced by the museum.

Many of these models were made for international exhibitions in London, Philadelphia, Paris, Calcutta, Melbourne and Sydney. At the Melbourne International Exhibition of 1880, wax fruit and vegetable models were displayed as part of the Victorian Ladies Court.

Photo of wax bananas

Wax bananas
Photographer: John Broomfield / Source: Museum Victoria

Museum artists in Melbourne became world experts in this specialised trade and were able to offer advice to other museums around the world. Trained modellers, mainly women, worked in the museum laboratory and employed special methods to capture in wax a specimen’s natural appeal.

Scientific specimens

This high standard of recreation gives the collection of wax models its scientific value. The Department of Agriculture sourced the original fruit and vegetable samples and, in return, the museum created models. One model went to the Department, while a second was acquired for the museum’s Economic Botany Collection.

As a scientific tool, the models were used to record which conditions affected the quality of the fruit, and which type of processing was suitable. Every detail of the original was recorded, including mould, bruises, and the colour subtleties of seasonal hues. Models documented healthy, diseased and unusual examples of fruit and vegetables.

The museum placed the models on permanent display for the education of the general public, particularly students and horticulturalists.

With the introduction of colour photography in the 1960s, wax models were no longer needed for recording fruit and vegetable specimens. However, the collection of wax fruit and vegetables remains an important reference for contemporary interests in biodiversity, organic agriculture and historic research.

Visitor Information

Access to the models can be arranged by appointment through the Collections Management Department of Museum Victoria.

Further Reading

Brunning, L. H. 1991 Brunnings Australian Gardener. Angus & Robertson, Sydney.

Vaughan, J. G. 1997. The New Oxford Book of Food Plants. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

Comments (2)

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Adam Balic 25 April, 2009 15:43
To whom it may concern. I am interested in viewing the models (specifically fig fruit) to confirm identification of a rare early Victorian fruit tree variety. Best regards, Adam Balic
Discovery Centre 29 April, 2009 16:22
The Discovery Centre coordinates all requests for access to Museum Victoria's Science, Indigenous Cultures and Australian History and Technology Collections. To make a Collection Access request please read the Collection Access guidelines.
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