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The Art of the Scott Sisters

Helena Forde, nee Scott c1866 Pic: © Australian Museum Helena Forde, nee Scott c1866 Pic: © Australian Museum
Harriet Scott, Ash Island 1856 Pic: Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW (a9971002 / MLMSS 1694, 23b)
A few weeks ago Nicole talked about The Australian Museum which is 190 years old this year. An exhibition highlighting the work of two of the most prominent natural history illustrators in 19th century Australia is part of the Museum's anniversary celebrations. The artists' names? Harriet and Helena Scott.

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The two talented sisters are featured in an entry by Catie Gilchrist in the Dictionary of Sydney here. The women lived on their father's estate Ash Island (near Newcastle) in the 1840s to 1860s, and there they did many of their entomological and botanical illustrations. Their father A.W. Scott was also an amateur scientist, and had educated his daughters well. We have a photograph of him on the site here and he was a distinguished looking gentleman, with the most amazing set of muttonchops. Alexander and his two daughters were particularly fascinated by butterflies and moths. Together Harriet and Helena drew more than 600 intricate illustrations and paintings, and illustrated their father's publication Australian Lepidoptera and their transformations (1864). The Scott sisters were elected honorary members of the Entomological Society after the publication of this work. What I particularly love about the sisters, apart from being trailblazing women in the masculine world of science, is that many of their illustrations feature delicate vignettes of landscapes in the background (see the example below). Their artwork is not just meticulously accurate, but is also visually stunning. They were both equally talented and it is often hard to distinguish between their work. You can see more at the Australian Museum's website here. In 1884 the Australian Museum purchased a collection of papers of the A.W (Walker) Scott family which included a remarkable set of 100 preliminary drawings and watercolour plates of moths and butterflies, along with the Scott Lepidoptera Collection of specimens. As part of the exhibition, animated projections bring Harriet and Helena's artwork to life. This beautiful exhibition is on at the Australian Museum until 25 June (details here). Listen to the podcast with Lisa & Nic here, and tune in to 2SER Breakfast with Nic Healey on 107.3 every Wednesday morning at 8:15-8:20 am to hear more from the Dictionary of Sydney.

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Hyalophora eucalypti Scott by Harriet Scott Pic: © Australian Museum Archives (AMS193/98) Hyalophora eucalypti Scott by Harriet Scott Pic: © Australian Museum Archives (AMS193/98)  Note Government House and Fort Macquarie in the background.