ROWAN, Marion Ellis (1847-1922)


ROWAN, Marion Ellis (1847-1922)
flower painter
daughter of Charles and Marian Ryan, was born at Killam, one of her father's stations, Victoria, in 1847. She was educated at Miss Murphy's private school, Melbourne, and in 1873 married Captain Charles Rowan, who had fought in the New Zealand wars. Her husband was interested in botany and he encouraged her to paint wild flowers. She had had no training but working conscientiously and carefully in water-colour she evolved a technique that was adequate for her special kind of work. Mrs Rowan returned to Melbourne in 1877, and for many years travelled in Australia painting the flora of the country. She published in 1898 A Flower-Hunter in Queensland and New Zealand, largely based on letters to her husband and friends. About this time she went to North America and provided the illustrations, many in colour, to A Guide to the Wild Flowers, by Alice Lounsberry, published in New York in 1899. In 1905 she held a successful exhibition in London. She returned to Australia and held exhibitions of her work which sold at comparatively high prices. She died at Macedon, Victoria, on 4 October 1922. Her husband and her only son both died many years earlier. Examples of her work are in the Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Bendigo galleries. About 100 of her paintings of South Australian wild-flowers are at Adelaide, the Brisbane museum has 125 examples of Queensland flora, and the Commonwealth government paid £5000 for 947 of her paintings now at the national library, Canberra.
In spite of the fact that Mrs Rowan was awarded many medals in Europe and Australia, her work does not place her among the greater flower painters. It was careful and competent, but possibly has more value from the botanical than the artistic point of view. In addition to the works already mentioned Mrs Rowan provided the illustrations for two other books by Alice Lounsberry, Guide to the Trees (1900), and Southern Wild Flowers and Trees (1901). Other books published in Australia were Bill Baillie, his Life and Adventures, The Queensland Flora, and Sketches in Black and White in New Zealand. Her portrait by Longstaff (q.v.) is at Canberra. Her brother, Major-general Sir Charles Snodgrass Ryan (1853-1926), a well-known Melbourne surgeon, was with the Turkish army at Plevna and Erzerum. in 1877-8, and 20 years later in collaboration with John Sandes, wrote an account of his experiences, Under the Red Crescent. He was principal medical officer for the Commonwealth military forces in Victoria and served in the 1914-18 war. He was created C.B. in 1916, C.M.G., 1919, and K.B.E., 1919. His son, Lieut.colonel Rupert Sumner Ryan, D.S.O., became deputy high commissioner of the Allied Rhine commission.
H. A. Tardent, Mrs Ellis Rowan; W. Moore, The Story of Australian Art; The Argus, 6 October 1922; Burke's Peerage etc., 1926; The American Catalog, 1900-5.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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