From Ian Lunt’s Research Site comes a story about the challenges involved in studying old paintings to learn how Australian forests have changed over the past 150 years. It seems that a 19th-century painter named Eugene von Guérard, fired by Alexander von Humboldt’s plea to artists to paint landscapes, fauna and flora as accurately as possible, resorted to some interesting strategems to make his paintings look especially authentic — and these tweaks present special challenges to modern conservation biologists trying to use his paintings for restoration projects. Most egregiously,
Von Guérard included grass trees in many of his paintings. Not only that, but he repeatedly drew grass-trees in pairs, with the base of their twin trunks obscured behind a shrub or log, as though hiding a large pot plant that he’d carted around the countryside just for this purpose. Indeed, he plonked his pot plant down in almost exactly the same place in his paintings of Tower Hill and the Warrenheip hills (see paintings above).