An exhibition of East India Company paintings on Indian birds

New Delhi (IANSlife) To honour unknown Indian artists commissioned by the East India Company in the late 18th and early 19th centuries to paint the Indian landscape and people, Delhi-based art gallery DAG will open an exhibition in India dedicated to an extraordinary selection of Company paintings of Indian birds, entirely from the gallery collection. It opens on September 4.

Combining the delicacy and details of Mughal atelier-trained artists with the refinement and rationalisation of European art, the works signify a hybrid Indian art of rare and exceptional beauty, a style unique to the Indian subcontinent whose patronage was almost entirely British. Curated by Giles Tillotson, Senior VP Exhibitions and Publications at DAG, it is accompanied by a book that delivers a wide-ranging study of birds through Company paintings, says the gallery.

The pioneering exhibition features 125 paintings from a number of albums, including that of Cunninghame Graham (1800-1804); the 1810 album of birds from north-east India with their exaggeratedly vivid colours; the Faber album from 1830 in which the artist’s observations contribute to the ornithological studies expounded in this exhibition; And lastly, the 4 folios by Chuni Lal of Patna –“the only one artist that remains identified — from the never-seen-before 1835 Edward Inge album”.

Together these four groups illustrate the development of Company paintings through a single genre. The birds depicted in this exhibition include raptors, game birds, coastal waders, and many woodland and forest birds, some very familiar and several that are now scarce.

Birds have always featured in Indian art. Some geese, somewhat idealised, endowed with luxuriant crests, appear in the Ajanta murals. Naturalistic portraits of recognisable species reached perfection in Mughal art under Emperor Jahangir. Connected developments emerged out of that Mughal practice in the late 18th century in Lucknow and Calcutta, where artists worked to commissions from European patrons. The pioneering efforts of General Claude Martin, Lady Impey, and William Roxburgh and their artists inspired others, giving rise to a larger body of Company painting dedicated to natural history.

Marking a landmark moment of cultural exchange, this exhibition celebrates the rare amalgamation of artistic practices from India and Europe and aims to contribute to ornithological studies making this a pioneering exhibition in the evolving study of Indian art history undertaken by DAG.

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