The Claridges, 4 September – 6 October 2021
Works of art made by Indian artists for Western patrons in the early colonial period are what we now call Company Painting. The artists, who might otherwise have worked for an Indian court, sought new markets among those employed in various capacities by the European trading companies, and especially the British East India Company. Some patrons supplied the artists with new materials such as European-made paper and transparent watercolour pigments, and expressed preferences regarding subject matter, leading to new departures in both style and substance in Indian art. One of the most delightful genres of Company Painting was natural history: images of India’s plants, animals, and birds.
The core of this exhibition is an album of 99 paintings of birds, painted by unknown hands, in Bengal around 1800. We do not know the names of the artists, or even that of the original collector, though the flyleaf has notes indicating that for a long period the album belonged to a family called Cunninghame Graham. The birds depicted include raptors, game birds, coastal waders, and many woodland and forest birds, some very familiar, and several that are now scarce.
Another extraordinary collection of Company Paintings of Indian birds is represented in this exhibition in an Edward Inge album from 1835; from this collection, only one artist—Chuni Lal of Patna—has been identified. Finally, there is the Faber album from 1830 in which the artist’s observations appear less detailed, while nevertheless contributing to the ornithological studies expounded in this exhibition.
“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 the ornithological studies, making this a pioneering exhibition in the evolving study of Indian art history”