Marian Ellis Ryan (1848–1922) was born in Melbourne. As a young woman, Rowan began to paint wildflowers, birds, insects and butterflies and she continued to do so for the rest of her life. Her interest in botany was encouraged by Ferdinand von Mueller, who was a friend of her father. From 1879 onwards she exhibited works at numerous international exhibitions and was awarded 10 gold medals, 15 silver medals and four bronze medals. She was awarded the highest honours at the 1888 Centennial International Exhibition in Melbourne. She travelled widely in Australia and, in particular, made six trips to Queensland. In England, Queen Victoria accepted three of her paintings and in the United States Rowan illustrated three botanical books by Alice Lounsberry.
Rowan twice visited Papua and New Guinea in 1916–18 and, with the help of native guides, succeeded in finding and painting from life 25 species of birds of paradise. She exhibited 189 paintings in Melbourne in 1918 and two years later she held an exhibition of 1000 paintings in Sydney, the largest solo exhibition to have been held in Australia.
Rowan was an incredibly prolific artist, whose botanical paintings show her fascination and dedication to the flora and fauna of Australia. This exhibition focuses on her documentation of Western Australian flora, exploring the incredible biodiversity of our state.