Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria
Born in Buckinghamshire, England, died on 21 December 1915 in Sussex, England.
Fanny Anne Charsley was one of five girls, all talented watercolounsts. The sisters were given a privileged education, with extensive drawing and watercolour tuition. When Fanny was 29. the family migrated to Australia and settled in Melbourne, where Fanny began to collect, draw and paint the flowers growing in and around the city.
Shortly after her arrival in Melbourne, Fanny began corresponding with the famed Victorian government botanist, Baron Ferdinand von Mueller, and soon began collecting plants for him. Her knowledge of botany expanded as von Mueller identified not only the plants she collected, but those in her various paintings. Von Mueller named the Australian flower Asteraceoe Helipterum chorsleyae in Fanny's honour, as he was impressed with her enthusiasm and the botanical accuracy of her work.
In her unique style, Fanny's flower portraits had lovely flowing movement, and in most paintings multiple plants were arranged deliberately to achieve balance. Not only were they colourful works of art, they were botanically accurate in every detail. Most of her works contained a variety of wildflowers of different species and colours—all quite small. Fanny's extremely fine painting techniques show the tiniest buds, flowers and minute stamens.
Returning to England after 10 years, Fanny lithographed her botanical drawings, which were published in London in 1867 in a book titled The Wild Flowers around Melbourne. This book is expensively bound and flamboyantly presented. Gold tooling decorates the corners and spine, and the cover features beautifully detailed and handcrafted fretwork, which make this publication a work of art in its own right. The title page is stippled with flowers and leaves and the work is dedicated to Baron Ferdinand von Mueller, who had encouraged and supported Fanny in this venture and had advised on the names and classifications for each plant. Great interest was shown in the very different and distinctive colonial flora, and Fanny's volume proved popular.
The National Library of Australia holds the most valuable album copy containing the original watercolours as well as black-and-white stippled lithographs. A separate page describes the endemic wildflowers, their habitat, blooms, size and colour in great detail. Other valuable information includes the location of each plant and its medicinal and gastronomic uses by the local Aborigines.
Fanny was a modest artist and her aim in publishing her one and only book was not fame and fortune, but a desire to exhibit her much-loved paintings for anyone to enjoy.
Source: extracted from: Norton, Leonie (2009) Women of Flowers: botanical art in Australia from the 1830s to the 1960s, National Library of Australia, Canberra
Examples of artwork