I have just been taking some visitors around the exhibition and I am awe-struck, again, at the perseverance, diligance and application of these amazing women. Their dedication to their science and the elegance and accuracy of its expression in their paintings is truly incredible.
The sisters and their father were careful note takers, record keepers and collectors of specimens. And in the nineteenth century to be a scientist meant that you needed a level of artistic skill to describe your findings. But for me, there is still the mystery of why the beauty, delicacy and detail of the paintings is so far beyond what might have been required for the scientifc description of the insects or the production of the Australian Lepidoptera book. Remember that the paintings were produced as reference for lithography, printing and colouring and never published themselves. Nor were they produced for public display.
It's the frustration of wanting a story the collection can't tell -- not just the tecnhical story of the science and illustration of butterflies and moths (though obviously this is a great story in itself) but more of the individual stories of the sisters themselves, their motivations, hopes and aspirations.
And I keep wondering, too, at the apparent lack of sibling rivalry. How did Harriet and Helena manage not just to live together in apparent harmony on Ash Island and then in Sydney but also work together so closely that we often cannot tell their work apart?