In the early 1900s a New Zealand legend quietly cultivated a remarkable and scientifically accurate collection of botanical paintings that continue to captivate enthusiasts and scholars to this day.

Fanny Osborne, born as Fanny Malcolm on January 29, 1852, was the second of 13 children in the Malcolm family, who made their home on Great Barrier Island. Fanny's early years on the island became a backdrop for a lifelong journey that blended scientific precision with artistic mastery.

Fanny Osborne's Botanical Paintings

Fanny's artistic talents blossomed under her mother Emilie Malcolm's guidance. Her mother provided her with a basic education in reading, writing, and arithmetic, and after lessons, the children enjoyed recreational activities, including drawing on the beach. Fanny's creative flair first emerged as drawings in the sand, a modest yet profound beginning that would later culminate in her exceptional botanical artwork.

In 1874, Fanny married Alfred Joe Osborne, and together they had 13 children, eight sons and five daughters. Even with a large family to care for, Fanny's artistic passion endured and flourished. Her affinity for drawing as a child transitioned into a deep connection with native flora, and it's likely that her husband, well-educated and knowledgeable about local plant life, encouraged her in this artistic pursuit.

From both scientific and artistic perspectives, Fanny Osborne's botanical illustrations are exemplary. Her paintings of indigenous trees, shrubs, vines, and herbs on Great Barrier Island are characterised by an astonishing level of detail, capturing each specimen's nuances with scientific precision. Simultaneously, they convey the innate beauty and delicacy of the subject, breathing life into the natural world.

Her works also serve as invaluable historical documentation of the island's plant life, with one of her depicted species, Elytranthe adamsii (New Zealand mistletoe), now extinct.

Botanical painting of the now extinct Adams Mistletoe

Today, Fanny Osborne's legacy lives on through the extensive collection of her work held by the botany department of the Auckland Institute and Museum. These paintings, embodying the marriage of art and science, are an enduring testament to her passion for the botanical wonders of Great Barrier Island.

Fanny Osborne's artistic journey, nurtured by the rugged landscapes and flora of her home, invites us to explore the delicate balance between the precision of science and the grace of art in the realm of botanical illustration.