Marian Ellis Rowan (1848-1922)

Two paintings found in an op shop were actually national treasures.

Staff at the Baptist Church Op Shop in Vincentia, on the South Coast, were going through an anonymous donation when they discovered two timeless pieces of art.

Someone recognised the artist’s signature, Marian Ellis Rowan, and, after some Googling, they realised they had found national treasures.

The small watercolour paintings, Flowers on the banks of the lake and Ducks in the lake, are almost 110 years old.

Op shop staff contacted the National Library of Australia and acquisitions librarian from the picture branch Michael Proud travelled to Vincentia to see the paintings and brought them back to add to the library’s collection.

The library houses the largest Ellis Rowan collection in the world with 900 pieces, almost a third of her works.

Ellis Rowan showcased her works across Australia, Europe and the United States.

“She was hugely prolific,” Proud said.

“She was very much a trailblazer for Australian artists, particularly Australian female artists because she forged her own path.”

As a young woman, Rowan began to paint wildflowers, birds, insects and butterflies and she continued to do so for the rest of her life. Her interest in botany was encouraged by Ferdinand von Mueller, who was a friend of her father.

In 1921 the Australian government agreed to purchase the paintings of Rowan, but criticism in parliament and disagreements about the price caused delays. In 1923 the government finally purchased 952 paintings from Rowan’s sister, Blanche Ryan.

The collection was stored in the Treasury vaults in Melbourne until 1933, when 947 of the paintings were transferred to the Commonwealth National Library, now the National Library of Australia. The other five were placed in Government House.

In 1953 many of the paintings were lent by the library to Australian diplomatic posts and other government agencies. Most were returned to the library in 1968-70, but 28 were lost.

The Age June 20 2018

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