The Maltese Tulip and a Diplomat’s Brush
During just another day in my life, I was invited to visit the residence of a foreign diplomat in Malta to discuss orchids, poppies and tulips, stroll in a magnificent garden and admire some of Malta’s indigenous plants. And this was all for a very good cause. The diplomat in question was the Australian High Commissioner to Malta, Ms Jane Elspeth Lambert. And the cause was The President’s Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society’s bid to increase awareness on our environmental heritage, and its importance for wellbeing.
The PFWS is in fact organising a botanical art exhibition to highlight the plight of the Tulipa Sylvestris Australis, commonly known as ‘Tupilan Selvaġġ’ or Southern Tulip, a very rare and endangered species. Flowering between March and April, this tulip is recognisable by its vibrant yellow colour and pointed petals. The National Red Data Book has maintained its threatened status since 1989 and it is protected from being picked or harmed, by law. For the purpose of this event, Ms Lambert was invited to exhibit for the first time ever, a small collection of her botanical paintings, with the main centrepiece being a depiction of the rare tulip itself.
As we tour her paintings, all rigorously made with the typical medium of botanical artists - watercolour, Ms Lambert explains, “I have always been fascinated by botanical art and the stories behind the paintings. Most were initially produced by artists who accompanied the great discoverers, such as the Austrian Ferdinand Bauer (1760 – 1826) who travelled on Matthew Flinders’ expedition to Australia. I come from a long tradition of female gardeners, so the recognition of diverse species is intriguing in itself. In my role as High Commissioner, observing, researching and painting plants which thrive on Malta and Gozo, has helped me understand the environment and geography, as well as old trading routes, which introduced new species to the islands. I found great support in my process of discovery from varied sources such as the Argotti Botanical Gardens, the Gaia Foundation, other artists and photographers.”
The collection features staples such as the caper flower, the pelargonium, the national tree ‘Għargħar’. The Bottlebrush, a typical Australian flowering tree also in Malta, is included in the collection, as is a surprise find... a yellow poppy. The national ‘Widnet il-Baħar‘ sits close to the Spicy Jatropha, a native of Cuba present in Maltese gardens.
Then there are the orchids. “Very few people are aware that Malta has its very own orchids, very minute and found mainly on wild garigue. It is curious that such a species blended and adapted successfully to this wild Mediterranean terrain over the centuries.” Indeed Ms Lambert has researched and painted three rare orchid varieties including the Pyramidal Orchid, each flower splendidly depicted in delicate wisps of washes, each carefully studied in what she calls her Maltese notebooks. These very personal and fascinating books of information are the basis of her work, each and every painted flower, leaf and sprig with quotes from book excerpts, notes of botanical information, colour blends and above all, endless sketches of intricate detail. Ms Lambert, who started painting when she was stationed in South Africa in 2006, was eventually introduced to botanical painting by Australian botanical, wildlife and landscape artist and teacher, Helen Fitzgerald.
Lambert’s painting of the Maltese Tulip takes centre stage in this exhibition. Incidentally, Ms Lambert noted that the Latin name for this tulip includes the word ‘Australis’, which does not refer to Australia but to the southern hemisphere. During the opening event tomorrow, a discussion will focus on this plant’s endangered status, thanks to the intervention of local expert Simone Cutajar and Dutch expert Rene Dekker. The latter will be coming to Malta specifically for this event, thanks also to the support of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Malta.
The evening will be officially opened by President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca. For the occasion, the Australian High Commissioner in Malta shall present the president with a painting of the endangered tulip. Ms Lambert says, “It has been a privilege to spend these past four years here and to discover Malta, the shared history and strong relationship with Australia. I am happy to have contributed in bringing stories of these historical ties to a new generation of Australians - stories such as Malta’s involvement in the care and rehabilitation of so many Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) members who fought at Gallipoli during World War I. This exhibition and official presentation will be one of my last public events in Malta, as my post here terminates in December. It will certainly be another wonderful memory to cherish in years to come.”
The opening of the botanical art exhibition by the President of Malta, followed by a colloquium between leading experts, will be held on Monday 24 October 2016 at 6.30pm at San Anton Palace. Reservations can be placed by calling the Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society on 21 484 662 or via email email@example.com. Places are limited. This event is being organised with the support of the Australian High Commission in Malta and of the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Malta. Tours commence at 10:30am every day from 25 to 30 October.