For the last 150 years Museum Victoria and its predecessors have engaged artists to illustrate the diversity of the natural world. Scientific illustration remains central to contemporary museum practice, even as it continues to evolve.
Calling on the traditions established over the last 300 years, contemporary artists use museum specimens to create finely crafted illustrations in extraordinary detail.
Peter TRUSLER (b. 1954)
Palorchestes Azael, skull
Alkyd oil on gesso over paper
Peter Trusler (b. 1954)
Research into Australia’s long-extinct species has demanded new illustration techniques. Artists who had previously depended on observation now have to use imagination and reasoning to depict animals that no one has ever seen in the flesh.
Palorchestes was a large marsupial that browsed on shrubs. The first fossils discovered were thought to be those of a giant kangaroo, but it became clear that the tall narrow skull, long claws and powerful legs belonged to an animal quite different from any living creature.
This is one of an extensive series of images by the palaeo–illustrator Peter Trusler, who reconstructed the head of Palorchestes from extensive research. Having composed an image of the skull from several angles, Trusler drew versions with muscle tissue, eyes, lips and nose to create a complete picture of this intriguing animal.
Simon HINKLEY, Ross FIELD & Ken WALKER
Digital macro photograph
Simon Hinkley, Ross Field & Ken Walker
Museum scientists are engaged with taxonomy, the classification of species. Calling on a comprehensive library of scientific illustrations and the museum’s collection of representative specimens from around the world, taxonomists describe a specimen of a new species in minute detail. That individual becomes the ‘type’ specimen to which all future members of the species will be compared, wherever they are found.
Minute detail is often now revealed through new technology. Ross Field is an honorary associate of the museum and an entomologist dedicated to documenting each life stage of every Victorian butterfly species. His passion has taken him to the top of many hills, along riverbanks and through parklands in pursuit of female butterflies as they lay their eggs. Simon Hinkley’s extreme close-up photographs of Ross’s egg collection allow us a glimpse into this microscopic world.
Rhyll PLANT (b. 1953)
Plaice Mat (Platessa vulgaris)
Woodblock, ink on paper
Rhyll Plant (b. 1953)
Since the days of Audubon and Gould, scientific disciplines have become increasingly remote from the fine arts. Artists like Rhyll Plant seek to unify the natural world, bringing science and art into balance.
Plant trained as a taxonomic illustrator before turning to printmaking to express her ironic take on the ‘plaice’ of nature in the modern world. Using museum specimens as subjects for visual puns, her images are as accurate as they are amusing.
Plant’s preferred medium is the woodcut, one of the oldest printmaking techniques. The outlines of a drawing are transferred to the end grain of a block of Huon Pine and the negative spaces are carved away to create a relief image. The block is inked and put though a press with a sheet of paper, creating a positive image.