Robyn Bauer
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2010 "Is there any news of La Perouse"?

(scroll down to see images)

This question was posed by Louis XVI of France before he was sent to the guillotine in 1793. Louis had sent the Comte de la Perouse on a voyage of discovery to the South Seas having been inspired by the successes of Captain Cook.

La Perouse left France in 1785 with two ships, the Astrolabe and the Boussole. One of the men who applied unsuccessfully to join the voyage was the 16 year old Corsican Napoleon Bonaparte. At the time Bonaparte was interested in serving in the navy rather than the army because of his interest in Mathematics and Artillery both valuable skills on warships.

After more than two years at sea La Perouse surveyed Norfolk Island on January 13 1788. He then had his first sighting of Australia on January 23. He and his party arrived at Botany Bay on January 26 where they encountered the First Fleet and received a friendly welcome.

Having already decided that Botany Bay was unsuitable for settlement, the British fleet sailed on to Port Jackson leaving Botany Bay to the French. They set up camp on the north shore, which is now known as the suburb of La Perouse in Sydney. La Perouse and his crew stayed six weeks and left Botany Bay on March 10 1788, never to be seen again.

Subsequent French voyagers were sent in search of La Perouse, the most important being the expedition of Baudin in 1800 in the Geographe and the Naturaliste. The work of Baudin's scientists in Australia in observing Australian Aborigines and detailing indigenous flora and fauna contributed greatly to the knowledge of Australia . A great quantity of specimens were collected and many of these eventually ended up at Napoleon and Josephine's home at Malmaison outside Paris.

This whole subject is one that has obsessed me for many years. I visited Malmaison in 2009 and walked around the garden imagining kangaroos and wallabies hopping around the formal French garden (although Josephine had preferred the flowing garden style of the English). She cultivated hundreds of species of roses and the juxtaposition of these roses, kangaroos, fleur de lis, rabbits and birds has been swishing around in my head ever since.

I have produced nine paintings in this series so far and am by no means finished. I have used the historical facts as a jumping off point and my own imagination has taken over. The reality of the harsh voyages, the mind blowing (bouleverser) discovery of weird new species ( including jellyfish around the boats) and the trials of a difficult homecoming or alternatively a shipwreck has affected my artist's spirit greatly.

Kangaroos at Malmaison Redoute's poppy displaced Landscape with Pink Robin Is there any news of La Perouse? - Lily and Iris Kangaroo family in a French setting Edge of the Known World Starfish Red Tree Divided White Tree Divided