This is a watercolour of a botanical drawing depicting one of the native plants of Australia, Eucalyptus saligna (Blue Gum). It is one of 98 watercolours 'drawn from life' by Agard Hagman and commissioned by the Museum between 1886 and 1889. Hagman worked in Sydney between 1885 and 1891. He was actually a civil engineer who arrived in Australia from Sweden in 1885 on board the ship 'Sorata' and returned to Sweden in 1891. The Sands Sydney Directory notes him working at Tattersall's Chambers, in Hunter Street in 1888. Apparently Hagman produced both engineering and botanical drawings for the Museum while he was in Sydney. His botanical illustrations were displayed at the Melbourne and Adelaide International Exhibitions.
The first curator of the Museum was the botanist, Joseph Maiden, who later became Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens. In 1887 Australia's natural resources were little explored. A major focus for the Museum during its early years was the collection of Australian plants and the investigation of their potential for commercial purposes.
This watercolour was one of many illustrations included in an extensive display of Australian timbers in the Timber Courts at the Museum in the late nineteenth century. When the Museum opened in 1893, the whole first floor was given over to the vegetable kingdom. Subjects included timber, food, drugs, oil and many others. The Museum did not limit itself to just exhibitions and advice, it actively promoted the commercial potential of Australian plants, particularly Eucalypts and Wattles. The display of Australian timbers included drawings, jars filled with leaves and seeds, sections through tree trunks, examples of raw and polished timbers and furniture and fittings made from different timbers.
A note in the 'New South Wales Catalogue of Exhibitions' stated that: 'Each drawing is 3 ft. 3 in by 2 ft 2 in., and is framed and glazed. Scale, three times natural size. In each case the fullest information (in large bold type) is affixed to the drawings themselves. In all cases the drawings have been made from fresh flowering or fruiting specimens, under the immediate supervision of the Curator, who certifies to their botanical correctness'.
'Yesterday's Tomorrows: Powerhouse Museum and its precursors 1880-2005', Graeme Davison and Kimberley Webber, Powerhouse Publishing, Sydney, 2005.