A friend of mine has sent me a postcard of a shawl goat from Bhutan, wearing  what looks like a baggy old mohair sweater.  It’s of a watercolour by an Indian artist, Shaikh Zayn al-Din, made in 1779.  The original now sits in the V&A in London as part of the Impey collection.

Here’s my version of a long, repetitive article I found at Abe Books on the Impey collection.  First of all, it should not be confused with a later Impey collection, one of Japanese porcelain made in the 1970s by Dr Oliver Impey — his doctoral thesis had been on the working of lizards’ jaws.  These Impeys, Dr Impey’s forebears, were the first European patrons of Indian natural history painting.  Sir Elijah Impey, a schoolfriend of Warren Hastings, was Chief Justice of Bengal. His wife Mary established a menagerie in the grounds of their house in Calcutta and employed at least three artists to paint the birds and animals.  One of them was Shaikh Zayn al-Din.  He trained in the Mughal tradition of Persian court painters; he was from Patna, and likely migrated to Calcutta in search of work when earlier Mughal patronage dried up.

Here is a lineated barbet, Megalaima lineate, on a juniper tree.  The leaves  look like little wings:

Zayn al-Din liked to show his subjects in profile, painted from life, used vibrant colour and paid great attention to detail. A new style emerged with the work in the Impey collection. Mughal artists previously wouldn’t have had the bird on a white background detached from the landscape.  Thanks to the menagerie Zayn al-Din wasn’t obliged to use stuffed specimens for study; he gave a good deal of vitality to the work, which is considered to be important to the development of European natural history painting, both artistically and scientifically.

And here is a red-whiskered bulbul, Pycnontus Jocosus:

Maybe I’ve got it wrong, but from what it says at Abe Books, the bird pictures seem to be colour plates ripped out of old books.  Each is available for $165,000.00, with an additional $3.00 payable for shipping within the United States.

Sir Elijah Impey’s impeachment was unsuccessfully attempted in the House of Commons, in 1787.  His memoirs are available here.

 

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