I love botanical and zoological illustrations. Earlier this summer, I spotted limited edition copies of The William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings, a two-volume collection of 477 watercolour paintings, at Antiques of the Orient for a price much outside my book-buying budget.
Farquhar, Singapore’s first Resident and Commandant from 1819 to 1823, was a keen naturalist. He commissioned unidentified Chinese artists to illustrate plants, mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and insects found in Malacca and Singapore. These paintings “played a pivotal role in revealing the region’s biodiversity to Western naturalists” and are interesting in their blending of Chinese artistic tradition and Western expectations.
The drawings have a remarkable history. In 1827, Farquhar donated these paintings to the Royal Asiatic Society in London, where they remained, apparently unstudied, until 1937, when six of the eight volumes were loaned to the British Museum. In 1993, Goh Geok Khim, a stockbroker by profession, purchased and donated the complete set to the National Museum of Singapore.
As of today, the William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings has a permanent home in the re-opened Goh Seng Choo Gallery. The gallery will feature “a rotating selection of the drawings presented in their original 19th century colonial context of exploration and discovery, experimental gardening, and Farquhar’s own contribution to the art and science of natural history.”
Go. It’s beautiful and inspiring and free. There, I just saved you SG$800.
(Additional credits: Images provided by the National Museum of Singapore.)