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MARTIN, Claude (1735-1800) - LUCKNOW SCHOOL. Superb Original watercolour of a Yellow-footed Green Pigeon. Lucknow, India: ca 1775-1785.

MARTIN, Claude (1735-1800) - LUCKNOW SCHOOL. Superb Original watercolour of a Yellow-footed Green Pigeon. Lucknow, India: ca 1775-1785.

35,000.00

Single sheet, matted and framed (sheet size 18 4/8 x 11 2/8 inches). A superbly beautiful and accurate original watercolour and bodycolour over pen and ink, heightened with gum arabic, inscribed in English lower left:  "Purple shouldered Pigeon. lat. sup. Scip. Nobe. B.C. male", and further inscribed and numbered in Urdu.

Provenance: from the collection of Claude Martin, (1735–1800), army officer in the East India Company and philanthropist; also from the collection of Niall Hobhouse, of Eyre & Hobhouse, Duke Street, St. James's, pre-eminent dealer in Anglo-Indian art, his sale 22nd May, 2008, lot 18.

The beautiful Yellow-footed Green Pigeon Treron phoenicoptera, also known as yellow-legged green pigeon, is a common species of green pigeon found in the Indian subcontinent. It is the state bird of Maharashtra. It is found 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.

Originally 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 river bank, 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 the enquiring mind of an eighteenth-century Enlightenment man. 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 paintings 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 favourite 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 per cent (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 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 Pigeons 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.  See Hobhouse, The Lucknow Menagerie: Natural History Drawings from the Collection of Claude Martin (1735-1800), May 2001. For more information about this watercolour and others like it, please contact Walter Arader

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