By Siddhi Jain
To honor unknown Indian artists commissioned by the East India Company in the late 18th and early 19th centuries to paint the landscape and people of India, Delhi-based DAG Art Gallery will open an exhibition in India devoted to an extraordinary selection of paintings of Indian birds of the Company. , entirely from the gallery’s collection. It opens on September 4th.
Combining the delicacy and details of studio-trained Mughal artists with the refinement and rationalization of European art, the works represent a hybrid Indian art of rare and exceptional beauty, a style unique to the Indian subcontinent whose patronage was almost entirely British. Organized by Giles Tillotson, senior vice president of exhibitions and publications at DAG, it’s accompanied by a book that offers an extensive study of birds through the company’s paintings, the gallery explains.
The pioneering exhibition presents 125 paintings from several albums, including that of Cunninghame Graham (1800-1804); the 1810 album of birds of north-eastern India in exaggeratedly bright colors; the Faber album from 1830 in which the artist’s observations contribute to the ornithological studies exhibited in this exhibition; And finally, the 4 folios of Chuni Lal de Patna – “the only artist who remains identified – from the unpublished album of Edward Inge of 1835”.
Together, these four groups illustrate the evolution of the Company’s paintings through the same genre. Birds featured in this exhibit include raptors, game birds, coastal waders, and many woodland and forest birds, some very familiar and several that are now rare.
Birds have always figured in Indian art. A few geese, somewhat idealized, with lush ridges, appear in Ajanta’s murals. Naturalistic portraits of recognizable species reached perfection in Mughal art under Emperor Jahangir. Related developments emerged from this Mughal practice in the late 18th century in Lucknow and Calcutta, where artists were working for commissions from European patrons. The pioneering efforts of General Claude Martin, Lady Impey and William Roxburgh and their artists inspired others, giving rise to more of the Company’s paintings devoted to natural history.
Marking a historic moment of cultural exchange, this exhibition celebrates the rare fusion of artistic practices from India and Europe and aims to contribute to ornithological studies, making it a pioneering exhibition in the evolutionary study of the Indian art history undertaken by DAG.