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image icon 'Waratah (Telopea speciosissima)'

'Waratah (Telopea speciosissima)'
Art Gallery of South Australia


This is a spectacular watercolour study of the Australian native plant, the waratah ('Telopea speciosissima'), in full bloom. Painted in about 1820 by the convict artist Joseph Lycett (1774-1828), it measures 26.5 cm x 19.5 cm.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is typical of a kind of art that began to appear in colonial New South Wales around 25 years after initial settlement (1788) - by this time there was a growing need for views of the settlement's progress, and also for the natural landscape, and flora and fauna
  • is the work of a significant convict artist, Joseph Lycett, who was convicted of forgery and transported to NSW in 1814 - like most of Australia's first artists, Lycett did botanical studies but is better known for his carefully completed landscapes; he also accomplished a significant set of Aboriginal landscapes, in which he recorded various social customs of Aboriginal people
  • is a rare example of Lycett's botanical illustrations - in 1820 Lycett painted 13 finely-drawn watercolours of flowering shrubs and trees that may have been commissioned by Governor Macquarie or an unknown patron
  • illustrates the role that some colonial artists (including Lycett) took in the provision of information about Australia, and its promotion and settlement - Governor Macquarie sent Lycett's watercolours of Sydney, Parramatta and Windsor to Lord Bathurst, the Colonial Secretary in London, to publicise the development of the colony under his administration
  • references the unique relationships between particular plants and human societies that have evolved over centuries - the waratah was proclaimed the official floral emblem of NSW on 24 October 1962; many government authorities and community groups in NSW use the waratah in their insignia
  • shows Lycett's understanding of how to edit the details of flower and leaves to present an image that both delights the eye and provides an accurate record of its botanical structure - the end result is a very formal, decorative but striking illustration that, in its bold structure and vivid colours, anticipates the fascination this plant would hold for future generations of Australian artists and designers
  • points to the special significance that the waratah has had for Australian artists and designers - waratah-inspired designs have appeared in 20th-century-designed items, including vases, wallpaper, stained-glass windows, belt buckles and a postage stamp; the Australian modernist artist Margaret Preston exploited the bold shapes of the waratah in some of her woodcut prints; the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences in Sydney has a significant collection of arts and crafts featuring designs based on the waratah
  • is a very early illustration of a particular native plant that attracted attention from the time of earliest exploration and settlement - Sir James Smith (1759-1828), a noted botanist and founder of the Linnaean Society in England, wrote in 1793 of the distinctively red, heart-shaped flower: 'The most magnificent plant which the prolific soil of New Holland affords is, by common consent, both of Europeans and Natives, the Waratah. It is moreover a favourite with the latter, upon account of a rich honeyed juice which they sip from its flowers'
  • is linked to an ongoing national and international tradition of botanical illustration.