Botanical Artists Association of South Africa View the Paintings of Arabella Elizabeth Roupell

27 Jan 2015 - 10:45

Recently a group from the Botanical Artists Association of South Africa (BAASA) enjoyed an opportunity to view the paintings of Arabella Elizabeth Roupell (1817-1914) in Special Collections and Archives, Jagger Library, UCT.

Arabella Roupell was a significant figure in the history of South African botanical art. Like many Victorian ladies, she was a skilled artist who took pleasure in painting flowers. Whilst living in the Cape for some years she collected and painted South African flora and was something of a pioneer. Her portraits of South African flowers show great accuracy and delicacy in capturing the beauty and botanical detail of the plants she studied. Importantly, her work was considered worthy of sponsored publication for its aesthetic and scientific content. The result was ‘Specimens of the Flora of South Africa by a Lady’ which was published in 1849, a book which made information about South African flora more widely accessible.
It was instructive and fascinating for us to examine the original work of Arabella Roupell close-up. We were able to study how she handled the depiction of various aspects of her chosen plants, to admire the veracity, colour and exquisite detail in her compositions, and try to understand her process and media. Many of her subjects are those that we may also have tackled. It was interesting, too, to compare the originals with published reproductions in the books that were made available to us. We were fortunate in being allocated the Kipling Room for the viewing which provided ample space and where we could discuss and debate the merits of the work without fear of disturbing other library users.
The paintings are kept in portfolios and the general condition of the collection seems good, especially considering the travels it was subjected to before settling at UCT. We were pleased to learn that expert advice as to conservation requirements was being obtained with a view to improving preservation measures. Jagger personnel were unfailingly helpful in facilitating this experience. We thank them most sincerely.  

Report by Ann Norris, member of BAASA.

Photo by Paul Weinberg.