Anyone For Tea?

Marian Rowan's Floral Legacy in Fine China

Marian Ellis Rowan (1848-1922) was a prolific Australian artist who painted flora and fauna. Born into a well-connected family, her husband encouraged her painting. Although she was not professionally trained, she produced artistic, botanically accurate work by using watercolour techniques with opaque paints, often without any pre-sketching.

Ellis exhibited extensively Australia-wide and overseas, including North America, the UK, Europe, India, and Papua New Guinea. A prolific artist, Ellis held a solo exhibition in Sydney in 1920 comprising 1000 works.

This Ellis Rowan-series tea set was a wedding gift given to Frieda, daughter of Francis John and Margaret White of Saumarez, Armidale, when she married a returned soldier in Sydney in 1925. The set includes a teapot, four sugar bowls, two milk jugs, four square cake plates, five teacups, saucers, and side plates.

Prouds jewelers commissioned her designs for Royal Worcester in England to decorate this fine bone china. As such, they depict her trademark flora and fauna, marked underneath as ‘The Mrs Ellis Rowan series’ or ‘Australian flowers series.’ Each item is individually numbered with many individually named; for example, the teapot is called Christmas Bells, the milk jug Leptospermum, one cake plate is Pultenea, another Pymelia.

After her death, Marian’s art collection was bought cheaply by the government and sent to the National Library – rather than the more appropriate National Gallery – where it has been largely kept out of public view. Despite many accolades, the ‘male establishment’ continued to undervalue her work for decades.