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Eastern Art Online, Yousef Jameel Centre for Islamic and Asian Art

Ashmolean − Eastern Art Online, Yousef Jameel Centre for Islamic and Asian Art

Lady Impey’s Indian Bird Paintings

(from 16th Oct 2012 until 14th Apr 2013)

Explore remarkable studies of Indian and exotic birds commissioned by Lady Impey around 1780.

Detail of Sulphur-crested cockatoo (Cacatua galerita) on a custard apple branch (Annona reticulata),

Introduction

These paintings formed part of a great collection of natural history studies commissioned at Calcutta by Mary, Lady Impey, wife of the Chief Justice Sir Elijah Impey, between 1777 and 1782. The Impeys shared the keen scholarly curiosity about India which prevailed among the circle of the Governor-General Warren Hastings, and they also assembled an extensive aviary and menagerie at their Calcutta home.

Lady Impey giving instructions to her household staff, Calcutta, c.1775-1778, possibly by Shaikh Zai, Private Collection. © Image provided courtesy of the Private Collection Lady Impey giving instructions to her household staff, Calcutta, c.1775-1778, possibly by Shaikh Zai.

Lady Impey seems to have taken the lead in commissioning meticulous, often life-sized pictures of their birds and animals from three Mughal-trained artists: Shaikh Zain ud-Din, Bhawani Das, and Ram Das. By the time the Impeys left India in 1783, these artists had produced over two hundred works on large sheets of imported English paper, mainly of birds though also of animals, fish and reptiles.

The most prolific of these painters was Shaikh Zain ud-Din, and all but one of the works shown here are by him. At their best they emulate, on a greatly enlarged scale, the refinement of 17th century Mughal natural history paintings. In their assimilation of European conventions they are also outstanding forerunners of the Company style, practised by Indian artists for British and other European patrons well into the 19th century.

Eastern Art Online presents an online version of the exhibition of Lady Impey's Bird Paintings, currently on display at the Ashmolean Museum's Eastern Art Paintings gallery, to enable visitors to browse all exhibition objects plus additional related items and their high-quality zoomable images.

Eastern Art Paintings Gallery -  Lady Impey’s Indian Bird Paintings exhibition, panel and east wall. © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford Eastern Art Paintings Gallery - Lady Impey’s Indian Bird Paintings exhibition, panel and east wall. Eastern Art Paintings Gallery -  Lady Impey’s Indian Bird Paintings exhibition, vitrine case. © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford Eastern Art Paintings Gallery - Lady Impey’s Indian Bird Paintings exhibition, vitrine case. Eastern Art Paintings Gallery -  Lady Impey’s Indian Bird Paintings exhibition, west wall. © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford Eastern Art Paintings Gallery - Lady Impey’s Indian Bird Paintings exhibition, west wall.
Notice

Objects from past exhibitions may have now returned to our stores or a lender. Click into an individual object record to confirm whether or not an object is currently on display. Our object location data is usually updated on a monthly basis, so please contact the Jameel Study Centre if you are planning to visit the museum to see a particular Eastern Art object.

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