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Australian art

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The Gigantic Lyllie of New South Wales



J W Lewin

England, Australia

1770 - Aug 1819


This winter and spring flowering lily grows in abundance in the rocky bushland of the Sydney region from Wollongong to Port Stephens. 'Gymea' is its Aboriginal name. At least three other studies of the Gymea lily (Doryanthes excelsa) by Lewin are known - two in the Mitchell Library (State Library of NSW) and another offered at auction by Christie's, London 26 September 2002 (67). In his book 'A narrative of a visit to the Australian colonies' (London, 1843), the visiting English Quaker and missionary James Backhouse noted that Australian Aborigines roasted and ate the lily's stem.

excerpt from Hendrik Kolenberg, Anne Ryan and Patricia James, '19th century Australian watercolours, drawings & pastels in the Gallery's collection', Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2005




Media category


Materials used

pencil, watercolour on cream laid paper


53.8 x 43.1 cm borderlines; 54.1x 43.6 cm sheet; 68.0 x 57.5 x 3.5 cm frame

Signature & date

Signed and dated l.r., pen and black ink "I.W. Lewin .../ 1810.".


Purchased 1968


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

J W Lewin

Works in the collection


Shown in 10 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 18 publications


Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of New South Wales picturebook, Sydney, 1972, 65 (colour illus.).

Tim Bonyhady, The colonial image: Australian painting 1800-1880, Canberra, 1987, 13 (colour illus.).

Christie's London, Christie's London: Exploration and travel including The Bligh Relics, St. James's, 26 Sep 2002, 66 (colour illus.). lot no. 67 is a watercolour on paper titled 'The Gymea Lily (Doryanthes excelsa)', painted in 1807 by J.W. Lewin, 54.6 x 41.3 cm, Estimate: US$47,000 - 78,000.

Christie's London, Paintings, drawings, bronzes, weapons and books of American, Australian, Canadian, South African and Eastern interest, 27 June - 2 July 1968, South Kensington, 1968, (illus.). lot no. 46

Penelope Curtin and Tansy Curtin, Blooms and brushstrokes: a floral history of Australian art, 'Flowers A-Z: Gymea lily', pg. 96-67, Mile End, 96, 97 (colour illus.), 194.

Jane de Teliga, Australian images: Prints, drawings and watercolours from the collection, Sydney, 1979, 7.

Deborah Edwards, Two centuries of Australian painting: a selection from the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Introduction', pg. 8-14, Sydney, 1986, 8, 16 (illus.). 1

Bruce James, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Australian Collection: Works on Paper', pg. 182-197, Sydney, 1999, 183 (colour illus.).

Jennifer Jones-O'Neill, Capturing flora: 300 years of Australian botanical art, 'Curious cones and gigantic lyllies: early encounters with the Australian flora', pg. 29-78, Ballarat, 2012, 60, 64, 65 (colour illus.).

Hendrik Kolenberg., Nineteenth century Australian watercolours from the collection, 'Introduction', Sydney, 1991. not paginated, 37

Hendrik Kolenberg, Anne Ryan and Patricia James, 19th century Australian watercolours, drawing and pastels from the Gallery's collection, Sydney, 2005, 20, 21 (colour illus.).

Hendrik Kolenberg, Look, 'Australian images from the past: whether rarely seen or familiar, these works move and delight us', pg. 24-27, Sydney, Apr 2005, 24.

Barry Pearce, The artist and the patron - aspects of Colonial art in New South Wales, Sydney, 1988, 134, 135 (colour illus.). 117

Hal Missingham (Editor), Art Gallery of New South Wales Quarterly, Sydney, Apr 1969, 454, 456 (illus.).

Barry Pearce, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Australian', pg. 13-35, Sydney, 1988, 16.

Anne Ryan, Australian art: in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Colonial eyes', pg. 17-18, Sydney, 2000, 17, 20 (colour illus.), 21, 301.

Daniel Thomas, Art and Australia, 'Australian collection', pg. 52-62, Sydney, Jul 1972, 53 (colour illus.).

Daniel Thomas, Creating Australia: 200 years of art 1788-1988, 'Colonial Art: Nature', pg.32, Melbourne, 1988, 35 (colour illus.).