After Austrian artist Ferdinand Bauer visited the Australian coastline in the early 1800s, it took him up to a decade to complete his watercolors based on his on-site sketches. Yet the colors are just as precise as if he was witnessing the living animals and plants, thanks to an extensive color code Bauer created. Involving up to 1,000 hues, the code was used to exactly label colors on his small sketches, which are now an invaluable record of Australian flora and fauna.
The DX Lab, a cultural-heritage innovation lab at the State Library of New South Wales (NSW), has launched Painting by Numbers: The Works of Ferdinand Bauer, an online interactive that investigates Bauer’s art through this color system. The site was developed in conjunction with the upcoming book Painting by Numbers: The Life and Art of Ferdinand Bauer by botanist David Mabberley, out January 1 from the University of New South Wales Press. Mabberley and his colleagues have worked on deciphering Bauer’s code since 1999. An exhibition called Botanical Inspirations at the State Library of NSW in Sydney further explores Bauer’s legacy through botanical drawings, maps, and rare books.