British Era Paintings By Indian Artists Going Under Hammer In October

New Delhi: Sotheby’s, one of the world’s largest brokers of fine and decorative art, is set to hold the first auction dedicated solely to the paintings of Indian master artists who were commissioned by British East India Company officials in the 18th and 19th centuries. 

The ‘In an Indian Garden’ auction is slated to take place on October 27, 2021, and will include paintings whose subject matter ranges from individual animal and human studies to complex architectural panoramas. The works encapsulate the rich fauna, flora, and architecture of the Subcontinent on paper.

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The paintings in the auction are being offered by the American collector and art dealer Carlton C. Rochell, Jr.

“I first began to collect these lesser-known masterpieces over two decades ago simply for my personal enjoyment, my imagination having been captured by their “East meets West” aesthetic. When they were painted, these works were the principal way in which India could be revealed to those in Great Britain, who otherwise could only hear stories about this sumptuous land. The meticulous “miniature” style was scaled up to depict birds, animals and botanical studies with remarkable lifelike detail, with the results rivalling any Western artists who recorded natural history and travel. Many years on, as they are beginning to take their rightful place in world art, these pieces can now inspire a new generation of collectors who I hope will cherish them as I have,” Carlton C. Rochell, Jr said.

Previously, in 2019 and 2020, The Wallace Collection had presented ‘Forgotten Masters: Indian Painting for the East India Company’, curated by writer and historian William Dalrymple. 

The exhibition showcased some of the finest works from the late Mughal period while also introducing the public to the names of the truly great artists who made them. 

Many of those same names – Shaykh Zayn al-Din, Ram Das, Bhawani Das and Ghulam Ali Khan – will be represented in the auction in October.

Seven of the works have been loaned to the Wallace Collection exhibition while most of the others have never been on public view and are emerging for the first time in decades.

“This remarkable collection contains quite simply some of the great masterpieces of Indian painting, brought together by a collector with an incredibly fine eye. This is a unique opportunity to purchase some of the greatest masterpieces of a genre that is only now beginning to receive its full credit.” William Dalrymple, Writer & Historian, Curator of Forgotten Masters, said.

“These delightful paintings reflect a fascination and passion for India’s culture and history, from Lucknow to Calcutta to Delhi and Agra, and showcase a remarkable hybrid style merging Mughal and European elements. Both the patronage and the painters provide a great deal of interest to viewers, no more so than now, when this genre of painting is finally receiving the full attention it deserves. These works are the product of true collaboration – not grand portraits of the patrons themselves, but tableaux of everyday human activity, as well as meticulous studies of nature and vernacular architecture,” Benedict Carter, Sotheby’s Head of Sale, stated.

In the official release, it was informed that the ‘In An Indian Garden’ auction will feature many works from the most renowned series of Company School paintings which include albums commissioned by Sir Elijah and Lady Impey, the Fraser brothers, Viscount Valentia, and Major General Claude Martin. 

“The most famous is that of the Impey family, who created an enchanting menagerie of animals in their gardens in Calcutta and hired local artists to paint the surroundings, with more than half of their over 300-strong collection depicting birds,” the statement informed. 

Besides this, the animal paintings of the Company School which are said to be akin to portraits of individuals, “replete with precision, vitality, and characterisation”, will also be represented.

The ‘In an Indian Garden’ auction will offer masterworks such as Bhawani Das’s Great Indian Fruit Bat, Shaykh Zayn al-Din’s Malabar Squirrel, and Stork and the elegant Demoiselle Crane painted in Lucknow.

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