This scientific illustration of a Butterfly Gurnard, Lepidotrigla vanessa, by Arthur Bartholomew was based on a specimen (NMV 41544) from Hobsons Bay, Port Phillip. The work, commissioned by Sir Frederick McCoy, Director of the National Museum of Victoria, as part of his zoological research, forms part of the much larger Prodromus Collection. Many of the original illustrations in the collection informed the production of the two volume work 'The Prodromus of the Zoology of Victoria', the first major publication of the National Museum of Victoria.

Bartholomew had been hired as McCoy's attendant at the University but McCoy obviously saw Bartholomew's potential for the ambitious projects which lay ahead and he soon began both a zoological and geology series for McCoy which would form the basis of the Prodromus of the Zoology of Victoria and Prodromus of the Palaeontology of Victoria. During the following four decades he illustrated more than 700 zoological specimens, along with an as-yet undocumented number of palaeontology and geological specimens. He also was commissioned to produce diagrams for the medical school. Having trained as a lithogrpaher, Bartholomew also transferred many drawings, both his own and those of other artists, onto stone for the production of lithographs.

The Prodromus project followed a popular formula of the time, seeking to identify and classify the natural wonders of the 'new world'. Such publications reached a peak in popularity with the work of John Gould in England and the earlier work of James Audobon in America. In Australia, many professional and amateur publications, including Aldine's systematic studies of the colonies and Louise Anne Meredith's Bush Friends From Tasmania, contributed to the genre.

The publication of the Prodromus was an enormous undertaking, utilising the work of numerous artists, collectors, lithographers and publishers, over an extended period of time. Although costly in both financial and professional terms, it was met with critical acclaim and wide popular support. Financial battles were waged and lost by McCoy, but ultimately the Prodromus has stood the test of time and remains one of Museum Victoria's finest publications. McCoy died without completing his systematic study, but even at the time few believed that 'any of us will live to witness the completion of the work, if the entire Fauna of Victoria is to be illustrated.'

Description of Content

Butterfly Gurnard, Lepidotrigla vanessa by Arthur Bartholomew. Watercolour and pencil illustration, D379, August 1864, 17cm x 26cm, for Plate 5 in The Prodromus of the Zoology of Victoria by Frederick McCoy.

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