Two Stunning Calcutta Company School Studies in Watercolour of Indian Fauna; A Frog & A Fish by Shaikh Abdullah c.1800

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Origin: Bengal, India
Period: Early 19thC
Provenance: Formerly of the Estate of Henry G.Plowden Esq.
Date: c.1800
The Works: 12.25 x 15” each
In Frames: 20” x 22.25” each

The wonderfully realised pair of Calcutta School Studies in watercolour on paper of Indian Fauna; one depicting a native frog and the other a native fish each surviving from Bengal in India at the turn of the eighteenth century and each presented framed and glazed in gilded frames with linen mounts.

The works remain in good overall order with the colours still vivid. The paper to the study of the fish has browning to the whole and some light spotting, please see the photographs for visual reference. The frames are contemporary.

The reverses are both annotated in ink; “from an album entitled ‘fish and reptiles found in bengal’ executed by Shaikh Abdullah for henry g.plowden, Calcutta circa 1800”.

In India during the eighteenth century and during the nineteenth centuries, Europeans increasingly would commission and buy pictures by Indian artists. Many of these Europeans were British East India Company officials, (which we assume Henry Plowden was) and for that reason, these pictures are generally described as ‘Company School’ art. Loosely designed, ‘Company School’ art is a hybrid Indian-European style of depiction that developed in eighteenth and nineteenth-century India through this new form of patronage. These paintings including birds, beasts, flowers and fauna produced under the supervision of East India Company officials came to be known as 'Company School paintings'. The school lost its momentum as photography was introduced to India in the early 1840s.

Nothing is known about our artist’s Shaikh Abdullah’s training, but he was most likely a trained artist before he started his employment at the Surveyor General’s office and these pictures would have been painted at the start of his career. He would have received further training in European style draftsman-ship in the 1810s and his rate of pay in 1824 was seventy rupees per month, which was on par with that of European draftsmen employed in the same office at that time, and higher than the pay received by most Indian draftsmen.  Shaikh Abdullah was able to adjust his style of drawing, depending on what he was required to do. For example, he produced watercolour pictures of monuments and landscapes.  He was still active up to around 1830 and there are records of his paintings in the British Library archives with pictures of tombs, vases and ruins all painted in the early nineteenth century.

Beautifully balanced work with such an instinctive eye for the relationship between the space and the wondrous creatures within it.

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