For eighteen months, I painted on an island of exceptional natural beauty – Sri Lanka. Home was perched on a hillside overlooking the ancient Royal city of Kandy, hundreds of metres below. My goal was to create paintings for a forthcoming London exhibition, focusing on individual rare species. Every morning I walked down the hillside tracks which threaded between banana groves and an occasional house. These hillsides were so exuberantly alive with wild plants, insects and birds that every pond, ditch and scrubby collection of trees demanded attention. Eventually, I reached Peradeniya Botanical Garden, where plants from Sri Lanka and many other parts of the world are cultivated with great care.
But on one memorable day, I was stopped in my tracks by a tall plant growing in a plastic container prominently displayed on a porch step. Its spectacular construction was a combination of huge “wings” of a purple-black so rich that satin damask robes of Renaissance princes were brought to mind and the graceful, ethereal wands which erupted from each flower seemed an alluring come-on to any passing pollinator. The owner of this breathtaking plant emerged from her house and smiled kindly at my awe-struck staring, then, after we’d chatted for a while about plants, gardens and beauty in general, she responded in the best of all possible ways – she entrusted me with it for long enough to paint its portrait. The insects were similarly and generously lent by another Sri Lankan neighbour.
T. chantrieri has a wide distribution in the wild, from peninsula Malaysia to Assam and China. © Frances Livingstone 2018