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February 23, 2024 – Published in Design & Decor Autumn-Winter 2023 issue

The precious art collection by Edward Caruana Dingli at The Phoenicia Malta

Photography: The Creatives and Christine Darmanin

The Phoenicia Malta’s vision is to “enable people to experience the new while celebrating the past”. A perfect example of this is the hotel’s focus on art. 

With the aim of exposing and celebrating Maltese talent, The Phoenicia Malta launched its ‘Artist in Residence’ program, offering various unknown and renowned artists a beautiful setting to showcase their works for an entire month. 

The artists display their art on the walls of the Palm Court Lounge, while sculptures adorn the stunning hotel gardens in the summer season. 

This initiative ensures a constant stream of artistic creations, providing a regular change in atmosphere within the Lounge which both locals and hotel guests can enjoy.

Furthermore, the Harbour View and Valletta Suites feature portrayals of vast seascapes and celestial skies by local artist, Alexia Coppini. These paintings represent Alexia’s emotional connection with the world and her practised eye for capturing the beauty of nature. Her art promotes a diversion from the troubles of modern life – which is often what patrons experience during a visit or sojourn at the luxurious hotel.

It is not widely known that The Phoenicia Malta owns the world’s largest private collection of paintings by the talented Maltese artist, Edward Caruana Dingli. 

Born in Valletta in 1876, Edward was the son of Major Raphael Caruana Dingli and Martha née Garrone, whose family was from Gozo. Edward was the second of five siblings. By the age of 19, when he joined the Maltese Militia in his father’s wake, he was already showing significant promise with his artistic skills. Two years later, he was tasked with designing the illustrations for the famed book, Historical Records of the Maltese Corps in the British Army, by Major Alexander George Chesney, which provided wider exposure for his talents.

Edward’s initial art training was at the Lyceum where he attended classes by Giuseppe Calleja, fine-tuning his designing skills. However, his mentor, Giuseppe Calì, was behind his inspiration to move towards realism with a touch of romantic idealism, a style he persisted in despite shifts in the art movement at the time. At the age of 37, Edward abandoned his military life and dedicated himself to an artistic career, an ambitious decision that was met with disapproval by his family. 

However, he soon proved them wrong when his popularity soared among Maltese and British aristocrats, earning him the title of ‘painter du jour’ within the local scene.

Since he lacked official acknowledgement as an artist, he embarked on a tour of Europe to further his studies, during which he was offered an esteemed post as Honourable Secretary at the British Academy in Rome by its director, Antonio Sciortino, a renowned Maltese sculptor. After various prestigious commissions both locally and abroad, he went on to receive other prominent titles, among them the Honorary Knight of Grace of the Venerable Order of St. John of Jerusalem. He was subsequently given the honour of portraying H.M. King George V a viva – an outstanding piece which the King himself praised highly, referring to it as his ‘live picture’. This led to Edward’s continuing rise to fame, with further requests for commissioned paintings by other members of the British monarchy.

In spite of his notoriety, Edward often chose to portray people from the general public, such as local farmers, women in the traditional faldetta – or hooded cloak – and even beggars. He also painted typical Maltese landscapes, seascapes, and architectural features in a bid to promote Malta abroad, leading to further awards and recognition. 

In the early 1940s, Edward’s works were displayed at Thomas Vassallo Antiques, in Merchants Street, Valletta, but the period’s bleak economy hindered sales of artworks. Finally, Colonel Roger Strickland, a close friend who often visited Edward’s studio, purchased a selection of the artist’s paintings and hung them in his home in St Julian’s. Soon after the war, The Phoenicia Malta was preparing to open its doors, so the collection was transferred to adorn the hotel’s walls. 

In 1966, hotelier Sir Charles Forte acquired the prestigious hotel together with its art collection, which may be viewed to this day.

In spite of serious illness, Edward remained dedicated to his artistic passions until 1950, when he died of heart failure in his hometown of Valletta. His creations are perpetually spotlighted in this prominent art collection owned by The Phoenicia Malta, adding local colour to the elegant premises which has offered decades of outstanding hospitality within the Maltese islands.

The Caruana Dingli exhibition is open to the public on a daily basis, as is the hotel’s Artist in Residence exhibition. Additionally, in November 2022 – on the occasion of the 75th year of its inception – the hotel curated its own photographic collection documenting its years of operation. These wonderful prints are now displayed in the Maryanski Room located on the ground floor of the hotel. 

The Phoenicia Malta 

The Mall, Floriana

+356 2122 5241

For reservations: 

+356 2291 1023

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