Caught and Coloured: Zoology Illustrations from Colonial Victoria

Ludwig Becker

Ludwig Becker was born in Offenbach-on-Main near Darmstadt, Germany on 5 September 1808. Trained as an illustrator, he contributed to the scientific publications of his mentor, Johann Kaup, then later studied lithography under Peter Vogel before becoming the court painter to the Arch Duke of Hesse-Darmstadt.

Arriving in Launceston via England and Rio de Janerio in 1851, Becker immediately impressed Lady Denison, who labelled him 'one of those universal Geniuses who can do anything; is a good naturalist, geologist &c.,draws paints and plays and sings'1. An appealing personality and agile thinker, he was influenced by the ideas of Alexander Humboldt who, instructed artists to draw en plein air to capture 'a certain physiogamy of nature particular to each region of the earth.2'

Becker came to Victoria in 1852 and was caught up in the rush to the Bendigo goldfields, where he tried his hand at mining but, more significantly, produced a small body of work capturing the time's excitement, along with the displacement of the area's original inhabitants.

Relocating to Melbourne, Becker contributed to the city's emergent intellectual and cultural life. He exhibited his Bendigo works, designed medals and certificates and was a founding member of the Philosophical Institute and the Victorian Society of Artists, in addition to being an active participant in the Melbourne German Club.

Perpetually anxious about money, Becker put his hand to a dizzying range of tasks. He published Men of Victoria, wrote and illustrated the cartoon style An Australian Song, illustrated scientific papers and publications, and created special events. He also joined expeditions into the Victorian hinterland with other notable German speaking intellectuals such as Neumayer, Von Guerard and Blandowski.

Portrait of Ludwig Becker by Frederick Schoenfeld.
Lithograph of the Burke and Wills expedition leaving Melbourne, 1860.


1Ludwig Becker entry, Australian Encyclopaedia, Volume1, Grolier Society Of Australia, Sydney, 1962, p. 471.
2C Heathcote, 'When Science Meets Art: Humboldt von Guérard and the Australian Wilderness', Art Monthly (145), November 2001, pp. 27-31.