Our first trip to the Ashmolean in Oxford today uncovered an unexpected treasure. We anticipated ceramics, Roman coins, statues and the like, which of course were there in abundance, but what I had not thought to see was an exquisite collection of bird portraits – Lady Impey’s birds.
Lady Impey lived in India in the late 1700s – so far, so Raj, but she commissioned a series of fantastic, life-sized paintings of birds and animals from their own zoo. Some of these are on display until 14 April and they are simply fantastic – a mix of east and west in style and composition – incredibly meticulous and realistic, yet vivid and living.
Apparently three Mughal-trained artists: Shaikh Zain ud-Din, Bhawani Das, and Ram Das, were the masters behind these paintings and their skill surely was superior to anything found in Europe at the time; 250 years later, the work is in amazing condition and utterly beautiful.
My only annoyance was that they were billed as Lady Impey’s birds – surely the artists who painted them deserve more credit – as I say, so far, so Raj. Being a curious person I googled away and found that one of the series was sold back in 2011 for £15,000 – worth every penny.
If you can get to Oxford in the next month, please look at the collection. I don’t know where they will go next. I so hope not into some dusty storage facility – they still breathe and live two centuries after they were painted.
You can find out more and see them here if Oxford is a tad too far: http://jameelcentre.ashmolean.org/collection/6980/10198/10199