Selleny, a pupil of Thomas Ender, and protégé of the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand-Joseph Maximilian, was appointed artist to the voyage of the Austrian frigate Novara which undertook a scientific circumnavigation of the world between 1857 and 1859. The Novara crossed the Pacific from New Zealand via Tahiti to Valparaïso in April-May, 1859. While she sailed south to round the Horn, a party from the expedition travelled up through Peru to Panama and finally St. Thomas in the Caribbean, where they rejoined the Novara for the final trans-Atlantic crossing, reaching Gibraltar in August 1859. The present Chilean subject (only a handful of Selleny's Chilean subjects are recorded) dates to this overland journey, the first leg from Santiago to Lima in May 1859. It is a characteristic work, the artist describing the geology and flora of the desert with precision. The South American parrots seen here reappear in his plate which opens Peyritsch, Schott and Selleny’s Aroidiae Maximilianae (Vienna, 1879).
Selleny is thought to have produced in the region of two thousand sketches during the voyage. A selection was engraved to illustrate the official account of the voyage (K. Scherzer, Reise der Österreichischen Fregatte Novara um die Erde, in den Jahren 1857, 1858, 1859, unter den Befehlen des Commodore B. von Wllersdorf-Urbair, Vienna, 1861-2) and its companion edition in English. There were approximately 50 oils from the voyage exhibited amongst the 600 sketches, oils and watercolours shown at the Wiener Künstlerhause following the artist’s death in 1875 (Skizzen von der “Novara” Reise).
For a catalogue of his then extant drawings, watercolours and oils, see L. Popelka, Ein österreichischer Maler segelt um die Welt. Josef Selleny und seine Aquarelle von der Weltreise der “Novara”, 1857-59. Graz-Köln, 1964, Katalog, pp.81-188. For another recently discovered work from the voyage, describing with similar precision the flora and fauna of the very contrasting sub-tropical rainforest below Sydney, see his panoramic oil "Australischer Wald. Character des Illawara Gebietes", Christie's South Kensington, 29 Sept. 2011, lot 179 (£157,250).