Description & Technical information

This botanical illustration depicts both unripe and mature fruits and the interior of another durian with a seed embedded in the flesh. The flowers appear from round buds to fully blossoming. 
The durian is a popular fruit in Southeast Asia known in some areas as ‘the king of fruits’ and reputed to be an aphrodisiac. The trees grow 25-50 metres in height and bear large fruits with thorn-covered rinds. The fruits emit a distinct aroma favoured by some and loathed by others (they are forbidden on Singaporean trains for this reason). Fruits can be up to 30cm long and weigh between one and three kilograms. The large flowers can be creamy-white to yellow and emit a heavy sour-milk aroma. They are particularly favoured by pollen and nectar eating fruit bats (Eonycteris spelaea) which are their main pollinators in Malaysia. The flowers may be eaten and the flesh is consumed at various stages of ripeness and features in a great number of sweet and savoury Southeast Asian recipes.
In 1856, the British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace exclaimed, “to eat Durians is a new sensation worth a voyage to the East to experience…. as producing a food of the most exquisite flavour it is unsurpassed.” In contrast, during his tenure as Governor General of Java, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles ordered that they be removed from his vicinity due to their foul odour.
Botanical illustrations of durians were produced for William Farquhar and Sir Stamford Raffles (see William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings, in the National Museum of Singapore (ac. 1995-2985) and The British Library, an Album of 40 Drawings of Plants Made by Chinese Artists at Bencoolen, Sumatra, for Sir Stamford Raffles, (ac. 016485) As with the present work, they all depict the fruit and flowers appearing on the trees simultaneously. This implausible phenomenon would not have occurred naturally, although it does serve the taxonomic interests of the patrons.

Period:  19th century
Origin:  Probably Penang, Malaysia
Medium: Watercolour with gum Arabic heightened with bodycolour on English paper
Dimensions: 38 x 49 cm (15 x 19¹/₄ inches)
Provenance: UK private collection, purchased in the US in the 1970s

Literature: Further Literature:
Laura Dozier (ed.). 2010. Natural History Drawings, The Complete William Farquhar Collection, Malay Peninsula 1803-1818. Singapore: National Museum of Singapore.
G.G. Khim. 1999. The William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings. Singapore: Goh Geok Khim.
A. R. Wallace. 1869. The Malay Archipelago: The land of the orang-utang and the bird of paradise. London: Macmillan and Co.

Categories: Oriental and Asian Art