The best of the Waterhouse art prize: reflecting on the fragility of our natural world

Media release: Friday, 27 November 2015

The very best of Australia's natural science artworks have come together in Canberra for Magnified: 12 years of the Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize, a partnership exhibition developed and curated by the National Archives of Australia and South Australian Museum.

Following its viewing in Adelaide earlier this year, the exhibition is on show at the National Archives in Canberra over summer. It is the tenth year the National Archives has collaborated with the South Australian Museum to host the prestigious exhibition.

'This is certainly one of the most popular exhibitions we host each year,' said National Archives curator Dr Sara King. 'Local residents and visitors to Canberra return year after year to see the new winners. And this year, we are proud to have been involved in curating the exhibition.'

Magnified: 12 years of the Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize, features the inspiring original winning works and historical items from the collections of the National Archives, South Australian Museum, the State Herbarium of South Australia and State Records of South Australia.

A May Gibbs illustration featuring flower babies arrayed in gumnuts and floral adornments from the National Archives is displayed alongside the 2013 Waterhouse winner Flight of Fancy – a cape created by artist Judith Brown using bulb casings and leaves.

'I can certainly imagine the gumnut twins wearing this cape in one of May Gibbs' pictures,' said curator, Dr Sara King.

The Centre of Attention painted by Michael McWilliams, the overall winner for 2005, features the now extinct Tasmanian tiger. On show alongside the painting is a preserved thylacine pelt and film fragments that show the last of the species held in captivity in 1932.

The 2004 winner, Forgive them mother by Chris Stubbs, portrays an orang-utan in clay, crucified upon a tree branch. The original sculpture is exhibited alongside a book excerpt describing the human-like antics of a cigarette smoking orang-utan at Melbourne Zoo in 1917.

'Such exhibits show the changing attitude to nature and animals over time – many attitudes and practices of the past are now seen as reprehensible,' says Dr King, who waits in anticipation for the winning works to be unveiled each year.

'We are always delighted by the diversity of subjects and the mediums artists use to celebrate the beauty and fragility of our natural world,' she said. 'This exhibition features the best of the best of these magnificent works. It provides a fresh opportunity for us to reflect on our environment and our attitude towards it.'

In 2002, the South Australian Museum launched the Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize to highlight the strong links between art, science and the natural world. Twelve overall winners have since been selected, with their diverse works reflecting themes in conservation, biology, evolution and climate change.

The Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize competition will return in 2016, with details online. It is named in honour of Frederick George Waterhouse, who was an eminent zoologist at the British Museum before becoming the first curator of the South Australian Museum. He was an avid collector of Australia's fauna, fish and plants.

Magnified: 12 years of the Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize is on display at the National Archives of Australia, Queen Victoria Terrace, Parkes, ACT until 28 March 2016.

The winning artworks are featured on the National Archives' website.

Contact information

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