Ellis Rowan

An Explorar, Artist, and Illustrator

It’s the birthday of Ellis Rowan, who was a well-known Australian artist and botanical illustrator, born on this day in 1848.

In a 1994 newspaper article, Sarah Guest described Rowan this way:

"She was an explorer. She set off alone at 68, for Papua New Guinea - who died in 1922. She dyed her hair red; had a face-lift; left her husband (the suggestion is that she was bored); was a member of one of Victoria's great pastoralist families; was a much-admired, prolific, technically proficient and joyous painter of plants and birds; and a conservationist she campaigned to stop the slaughter of birds for the decoration of ladies' hats... in her day she was known as "Australia's brilliant daughter" which, indeed, she was."

Rowan discovered painting after her botanist husband. Frederick encouraged her to develop a talent. Rowan developed her passion into her profession, and it led her into unknown parts of Australia. During the First World War, Rowan was living in New Guinea. At one point, she painted 45 of the 62 known species of birds of paradise.
As a woman living during the mid-1800s, Rowan minded the dress code of her era. Wherever she went, whether on exploration or back at home, she was always impeccably dressed, wearing heavy ankle-length dresses, high collars with full sleeves - complete with crinolines, corsets, whalebone stays, and a hat.
Just before Rowan died, the federal parliament in Australia debated whether to buy 1,000 of her paintings despite the Australian artist and novelist, Norman Lindsay, who called her work vulgar art. Lindsey didn't think wildflowers were worthy of subjects of real art. Ultimately, the paintings were purchased for $5000. They are now part of Australia’s national library.

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Ellis Rowan
Ellis Rowan


  1. Stephanie Wellard on January 21, 2024 at 9:42 pm

    I would love the Australian National Library to put on an exhibition of this amazingly talented and courageous artist’s beautiful artwork.
    Australian Women artists have so frequently been erased from the Art History of this country.Time to bring Ellis Rowan back into the light.

    • Kylie Burchell on January 29, 2024 at 3:01 am

      Looking at the last 700 years of artists, this has always been the case. Although the females out weigh some of the most famous males in talent, recorded history( by those in power) erased them. Lets face it this echos in all parts of society. We are still so far removed from equality it will always remain a mirage in so called civilization.

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