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The Lucknow School, Yellow-Footed Green Pigeon, Treron phoenicoptera

The Lucknow School, Yellow-Footed Green Pigeon, Treron phoenicoptera

  • $ 42,000.00

The Lucknow School
Yellow-Footed Green Pigeon, Treron phoenicoptera
Inscribed in Urdu: ‘Purple shouldered Pigeon. For. B.C.’ lower center and
further inscribed lower left
Paper size: 18 1/2 x 11 1/4 in.
Pen and ink with watercolor, gum arabic
Provenance: Claude Martin (1735-1800), Lucknow
Lucknow, India circa 1775-1785

The beautiful Yellow-footed Green Pigeon Treron phoenicoptera, also known as yellow-legged green pigeon, is a common green pigeon species found in the Indian subcontinent. It is the state bird of Maharashtra. It is located in the scrublands, forests, and cultivated are near towns and villages of southern Asia from Pakistan and India through to Indochina. They feed mainly on fruits and berries, especially wild figs.

Initially from the "Lucknow Menagerie," a collection of paintings by Mughal artists executed for Claude Martin (1735-1800), a wealthy "Nabob" who served the Nawab Asaf-ud-daula and the East India Company and had powerful and influential connections in the Anglo-Indian world of the East Indian Company. Among other employments, he surveyed the newly acquired territory of Bengal for the Company. "Through indigo cultivation, money lending and service for the Nawab, Martin became extremely rich. He was able to indulge a passion for building and, when he died, bequeathed his fortune to found institutions for educating children at Lucknow, Calcutta and Lyon" (William Chubb, The Lucknow Menagerie).

In 1775 Martin "got himself appointed as superintendent of the nawab's arsenal in the new capital, Lucknow. He was adept at finding influential people who could promote his career, aided by flattery and gifts. In this case, he solicited the help of John Bristow, the corrupt resident to the Lucknow court, who, in turn, went to his patron, Philip Francis, the most powerful man in British India after the governor-general, Warren Hastings. It was probably now that Martin became a freemason, allowing him to move with confidence among fellow masons occupying the highest East India Company positions. Lucknow became his permanent home, and in 1781 he completed his first house, strongly fortified and moated, on the Gumti River. During the summer, he lived underground, in basements built into the riverbank, moving up as the river rose during the annual monsoon. When it fell, the basements were cleared of silt for the next summer's occupation. In the rooms above, Martin established 'a perfect Musaeum' that reflected an eighteenth-century Enlightenment man's inquiring mind. He collected natural curiosities and commissioned paintings of birds and flowers from Indian artists. He possessed works by the Daniells, William Hodges, Johann Zoffany, and Francesco Renaldi and appears in images by the last two. He bought telescopes from the astronomer royal, William Herschel, and steam engines from the Birmingham factory of Matthew Boulton and James Watt, which he used for raising water. His library contained nearly 1000 volumes, showing his scientific, architectural, botanical, and antiquarian interests, with some erotica. He never married but kept several young Indian women, including his favorite mistress, Boulone (c.1766–1844), whom he had bought when she was nine years old... In 1785 he built and flew the first hot air balloons in India, to the astonishment of the nawab, Asaf ud-Daula. In the arsenal he cast bells and cannon, and made fine pistols. Martin's huge fortune, which made him the richest European in eighteenth-century India, was accumulated in various ways. He owned and rented property, some of which he designed and had built himself. He traded successfully in indigo and cloth, exporting it to Europe in exchange for Spanish dollars. He lent money at 12 percent (the company rate of interest), the largest loan being £250,000 to the nawab in 1794, which he retrieved with difficulty. He also sold European artefacts to the nawab at highly inflated prices, though his influence at the Lucknow court has been overrated" (Rosie Llewellyn-Jones for DNB).

By the late 18th-century, many Mughal-trained painters in India looked 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 were a classic type. Paintings of birds, animals, and flowers had been a dominant 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. However, the results were often quite different stylistically.

In the second half of the 18th-century, the East India Company's English governing elite started commissioning Indian artists to paint subjects of interest to them. The themes related to India's foreign lavish lifestyle, 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 and indulgent. They spent heavily on houses, horses, books, music, and pictures.

Indian painting and Indian art were 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 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.

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