Caught and Coloured: Zoology Illustrations from Colonial Victoria

Drawing from Life

The laboratory provided an orderly environment to observe living animals collected and nurtured specifically for illustration.

This atmosphere was ideally suited to Arthur Bartholomew's methodical temperament; the quality of illustrations he made there over forty years was both consistent and flawless.

In the cool of the laboratory's high stone walls, it is easy to picture Bartholomew moving from cabinet to aquaria, checking on and feeding the insects, frogs and small fish in his care. Having noticed a larva which had spun itself into a cocoon, or the emergence of a perfect moth from its chrysalis, he would then carry the specimen to his drafting table and set to capturing its exact likeness and colour.

Examining his subject under a magnifying glass, Bartholomew would first describe their form with fine pencil lines, before building up overlapping washes of watercolour and eventually adding glazes of varnish and gum Arabic. At last he would capture the colour saturation and level of sheen in each part of the specimen, achieving a subtle three-dimensionality reproducing both likeness and texture.

In the years since their creation, the few fortunate to have observed these drawings must have been tricked by Bartholomew's skill: moving one illustration towards the light for closer examination, a real moth's wings appear miraculously pasted to the paper. It is difficult to imagine now, in an age of instantaneous photographic reproduction, that comparable images can be made by hand, given time, skill and infinite patience.

While it is apparent from their notes that William Kershaw, and later his son James, referred to Bartholomew's insect drawings, the bulk of the collection has remained virtually hidden for over a century. Consequently they have rarely been exposed to light, remaining as fresh and vibrant as the day they were painted.

Coprosma Hawk Moth Hippotion scrofa, by Arthur Bartholomew.
Vine Hawk Moth Hippotion celerio, by Arthur Bartholomew.