|European Watercolors — A Pair of Common (Eurasian) Quail|
|A Pair of Common (Eurasian) Quail
The Lucknow School
Inscribed in Urdu: upper right and center
Published: Lucknow, India circa 1775-1785
Medium: Pen and Ink with bodycolor, fixative
Dimensions: Paper size: 11” x 18”
A Splendid Eighteenth-Century Painting From the Lucknow School
By the late 18th century, many Mughal-trained painters in India were looking to the emerging British ruling class for patronage. The products of the Lucknow School, based in Lucknow, India, were often albums of flora, fauna, and other exotic sights of India, made to be taken back to Britain. Of the varied subjects, bird studies such as this depiction of Quail from the Lucknow school, may be deemed a classic type. Paintings of birds, animals, and flowers had been an important genre in Indian art since the time of the Mughal emperor Jahangir (1605–27), and the continuation of such subjects under British patronage was a natural extension of that established tradition, although the results were often quite different stylistically. In these paintings, the birds stand upright in a receding landscape of considerably reduced scale. The dramatic contrast in size between the bird and the vista it dominates gives the composition a distinctively idiosyncratic mood.
In the second half of the 18th century, the English governing elite of the East India Company started commissioning Indian artists to paint subjects of interest to them. The subjects related to the splendid life style of the foreigners in India, their houses and possessions, botanical and Zoological studies, and Indians in their typical dresses pursuing their crafts and professions. This type of work is called Company art. The British elite in India generally adopted an extravagant lifestyle that could be cultured as well as being indulgent. They spent heavily on houses, horses, books, music, and pictures. Besides the English, the French and Portuguese had earlier commissioned Indian artists to paint similar themes.
During the 1700s, distinguished painters such as Tilly Kettle and Johan Zoffany went to India in search of commissions. Indian painting and Indian art were also patronized, most notably by Warren Hastings, governor and governor-general of Bengal from 1772. Women also became connoisseurs. Mary Impey, the wife of Elijah Impey, chief justice of Fort William, Bengal, from 1773 to 1783, commissioned beautiful drawings of Indian natural history. Margaret Benn-Walsh, who moved to India to join her father and brother in 1776, delighted in north Indian songs, setting them in Western musical notation as ‘Hindostannie airs’. Those members of this elite who survived aimed to return to live in England or Scotland (which won a stake in Indian service early in the century) at least in the style of affluent gentry.
This remarkable painting embraces the traditional styles of Indian painting so favored by British collectors during the Natural History obsession that gripped Europe during the 18th century. The common quail is a seasonal resident of open habitats throughout Europe, western and central Asia, migrating south to winter in the subcontinent of India and in tropical Africa.
Provenance: Claude Martin (1735-1800), Lucknow