DAG’s popular Birds of India exhibit heads to Mumbai

The exhibition Birds Of India, first shown by DAG in its Delhi gallery earlier this year, garnered such rave reviews and generated such interest in this unique aspect of the company’s paintings that it prompted Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum to take him to Mumbai. It is exhibited there from today, the 125 extraordinary paintings distinguished not only by the incredible detail but also to retrace the evolution of the genre, from patronage to popular art, through a theme.

The show is accompanied by another exhibition, New lands discovered: the Indian landscape from empire to freedom, on the development of Indian landscape art from 1780 to 1980. Both are curated by Giles Tillotson, Senior Vice President, Exhibitions and Publications, DAG.

In recent years, a series of exhibitions on the various facets of the Company’s painting show the growing interest, both among academics and art lovers, in this genre. The style has its origins in the movement of artistic patronage from Mughal courts to Europeans, bringing Indian artists under the influence of European counterparts such as Thomas and William Daniell, William Hodges, Johann Zoffany and Frans Balthazar Solvyns. The idea was to faithfully convey scenes from exotic India to Europe.

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As the majority of the Company’s paintings depict botanical subjects, trades, and professions, fair bird paintings are rare. The exhibition in Mumbai is largely inspired by the Cunninghame Graham (1800-04) album of 99 paintings, in addition to showing later works from the Faber album (1830) and four folios by Chuni Lal of Patna- the only artist to be identified from the Edward 1835 Album d’Ingé.

There is a larger context to how the exhibition came about. “DAG, which specializes in the Moderns, wanted to broaden its historical context to include earlier elements from the 18th and 19th centuries. To this end, we have recently organized exhibitions around Daniell and Solvyn, ”explains Tillotson. One day, Ashish Anand, CEO of DAG, arrived with the Cunninghame Graham album. “It just blew me away. Birds are another of my interests … But I had never seen an album with these many pictures of birds. And I realized that this could be an exhibition in its own right, ”he adds. It has been possible to date the album Cunninghame Graham, produced in Kolkata, as some pages bore watermarks and inscriptions indicating “painted in 1804”.

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Initially, the company’s paintings were created for specific patrons and scientists such as William Roxburgh, who was appointed superintendent of the Calcutta Botanical Garden in 1793 and wanted reproductions of plant specimens. But during the 19th century, says Tillotson, more Europeans became interested in these paintings. More and more artists began to embrace the style, producing works for a wider market. In the following years, the quality declined as the paintings were “mass produced”. In the years 1830-40, artists even copied earlier paintings. “It interested me that a particular art form with this unique kind of beginning acquired the folk art form,” says Tillotson.

The accompanying show, New lands found, on landscape art is divided into three phases: a foreign vision of the picturesque; the assimilation by Indian artists of the Western academic approach; and a shift to a radically different one.

Birds Of India and New Found Lands will be on display at Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum from November 27 to February 16.

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