The botanical watercolours featured in this calendar were painted between 1893 and 1907 by Sri Lankan artists and brothers James and Charles de Alwis. They were part of a renowned Sinhalese family of illustrators including their uncle William, who painted both plants and butterflies. Their work is part of the Singapore Botanic Gardens’ archives which include more than 2,000 botanical paintings, as well as hundreds of sketches, line drawings and photographs. The collection began in 1890 when the Gardens’ first director, Henry Nicholas Ridley, employed James de Alwis to produce botanical illustrations of rare plants from the Malay Peninsula. James left the Gardens in 1894. His brother Charles became the Gardens’ artist from 1900 to 1907.
Altogether there are about 420 drawings by the de Alwis brothers in the Gardens’ collections. Among this year’s selection are eight paintings of plants from the Gardens. Five of them grew in the Gardens’ Rain Forest, which back then was known as the Gardens’ Jungle. The Gardens’ Rain Forest is a fragment of primary tropical forest, forming a multi-layered ecosystem of herbs and ferns, climbers, shrubs, and trees. Some trees reach 50 metres in height and were already mature trees before the founding of modern Singapore in 1819.