Last year we had the privilege of digitising 184 original artworks by World renowned botanical artist, Dr Auriol Batten. Dr Batten passed away in June 2015 and the Batten family approached us to capture paintings and pencil sketches that they have access to for preservation purposes and to make them accessible. The artworks included some of the dieramas created for her famous book, Flowers of Southern Africa, and some seldom seen early line drawings that were not made public. The Batten family wanted the paintings captured at a standard that accurately reflected the condition of the originals.
We were digitising the ANC Archive at the University of Fort Hare at the time, and Dr Batten’s son, Chris Batten, was able to drive up from Port Elizabeth and deliver them to us personally. We digitised the artworks using our Alpa 12 FPS camera with a Rodenstock lens and our Phase One IQ3 100 megapixel digital back. Below is an example of one of the images zoomed in. These are unenhanced files maintaining the colour as per the original. There is discolouration of the physical paper due to age and some fungal spots that can be seen. While to zoom percentages are true, we had to reduce the size of each image to make it fit the format of this blog post (so zoomed in at 100% in Photoshop would be larger than it appears here).
According to Chris, his mother was born on 3 March 1918 in a small house in Braid Street, Pietermaritzburg. “From a very early age, she loved drawing,” he wrote. “It was a Miss Currie at Pietermaritzburg Girls High School that pointed her in the direction of botanical art. After matriculating she went down to Durban and studied botany and teaching at the University of Natal and she trained in art at the Durban Technical College. In about 1942 she met up with Nils Anderson the official naval artist and became good friends. The two artists fed off each other and created some fantastic work painting beachscapes on the South Coast.”
“After meeting Ashley Batten she moved down to East London and taught art at the East London Technical College. In 1962 she and Herta Boekelmann started collecting for a book called Wild Flowers of the Eastern Cape Which was illustrated in watercolour. The book took four years to produce and was published by TV Bulpin in 1966. I know that she wrote and illustrated another 13 books but her first book was the one she really enjoyed writing. It was reprinted in about 2009 with an updated text by Peter Goldblatt in a series done by Kirstenbosch. From 1962 to 1990 was the era of the botanical expeditions where cars were piled high with equipment went all over the Eastern Cape collecting samples for her books. In 1985 she wrote a beautiful book called Flowers of Southern Africa where she pencilled in the habitat in the background of the plates. A winner of numerous gold awards both locally and internationally she was considered to be in the top three botanical artists worldwide. She was a very approachable humble woman who would give tips to junior artists.”
“Unfortunately, she suffered a slight stroke and one can see errors when magnifying her plates of freesias which were the last set of illustrations she painted. She had an exhibition in 2012 at the Anne Bryant Gallery in East London which was packed and showed many pictures and ceramics that she created over 74 years. She died on 3 June 2015 surrounded by her family.”