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Apples and pears at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art

The previous exhibition at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art - 'Botanicals, Environmental Expressions in Art from the Alisa and Isaac M. Sutton Collection' - included some intriguing models of apples and pears sent to Victorian England from Australia.
Blog team: 
Caroline Cornish

This exhibition has now finished

Previously on display at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art were these striking models of apples and pears from the Economic Botany Collection.

The pear models at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art

The London International Exhibition 1862

They formed part of a collection of 200 models of apples and pears, made of plaster or wax, which were donated to the Kew Museum by the Australian states of Tasmania and Victoria after the 1862 International Exhibition. This exhibition was held at South Kensington in London on the site of the current Natural History Museum. Such exhibitions were a means for countries to secure export markets for their natural resources, their crops, and their finished goods. They also served to inform prospective emigrants of the social and working opportunities they could offer.

A stereoscopic image from the London International Exhibition 1862 (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Thomas McMillan

The cost of the models was borne by fruit growers in the two Australian states. They were produced by various artists, most of whom are not identified. However, certain of the models from Victoria were made by Thomas McMillan, who also created natural history models for the Industrial & Technological Museum in Melbourne. Every detail of the various fruit varieties has been accurately adhered to. Even insect bore-holes are included!

Model of a Mannington Pearmain apple, showing insect bore-hole


The apple models chosen for display represent both traditional ‘old world’ varieties such as the ‘Bramley Seedling’, as well as newer colonial varieties like ‘Wolf River’. Others reflect more patriotic inclinations, for example ‘Prince Albert’ and ‘Royal Jubilee’. Among the pears, names such as ‘Duchesse d’Angouleme’ and ‘Nouvelle Merveille’ are indicative of French and Belgian endeavours in this branch of horticulture, commonly referred to in the nineteenth century as ‘pomology’.

Why models?

But why models? Why not illustrations or actual specimens? With the advent of the public museum in the nineteenth century, museums were faced with the problem of how to display plants in permanent exhibits. Herbarium sheets were of use primarily to the scientist. With their pressed, dried specimens, they did not make very interesting display objects for a more general public. Models presented the ideal solution in their ability to show the scale, colour, texture, and form of plants, both externally and internally. Charles Darwin’s mentor at Cambridge University, Professor John Stevens Henslow, was one of many men of science who advocated the use of models in museums. He helped William Hooker arrange the first museum here at Kew in 1847 and he said:

'Dried plants from the Herbarium cannot be advantageously displayed in glass cases. The following method may be adopted for the typical epitome:- a few wax models of flowers with figures of such parts as require to be magnified; but especially entire fruits, with dissections exposing the seed and embryo.'

Once at Kew, the models were displayed on the middle floor of Museum No. 1 alongside other specimens and objects related to the Rosaceae family.


  Museum No. 1 c. 1900

Since the closure of the Museum of Economic Botany in 1987, they have resided in the Economic Botany Collection store in the Banks Building where, like the whole of the Collection, they are available for study by researchers and for loan to other museums.

- Caroline -