• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 7615

    Art of The Islamic And Indian Worlds

    7 October 2008, London, King Street

  • Lot 271

    Bhawani Das (circa 1778-1782)

    An Eastern Goshawk

    Price Realised  


    Bhawani Das (circa 1778-1782)
    An Eastern Goshawk
    inscribed 'In The Collection of Lady Impey at Calcutta'(lower left), 'Painted by Bhawani Das [in Persian] Native of Patna' (lower left) and with further inscription 'Bas' [in Persian] (lower left) and with Sir Elijah Impey's seal (on the reverse), watermark 'J Whatman'
    pencil, pen and grey ink and watercolour, heighten with white
    25 5/8 x 18¾ in. (65 x 47.7 cm.)

    Contact Client Service
    • info@christies.com

    • New York +1 212 636 2000

    • London +44 (0)20 7839 9060

    • Hong Kong +852 2760 1766

    • Shanghai +86 21 6355 1766

    The Eastern Goshawk (Accipiter Gentilis Schvedowi) was identified by Menzebier in 1882. Its Hindi names are Jarra for the male and Baz for the female. This powerful hunter is a rare visitor from the north-west Himalayas in winter, where a few are known to breed. Its deadly hunting methods of ambush and cunning once made it popular with falconers in India and Pakistan. It usually launches the fatal attack from a dense bush or from high on a rock, often taking quarry in full flight. Females of this species, which are larger than the male, are capable of bringing down bird prey the size of bustards, but the more normal sizes are within hare and pheasant ranges.

    For impressions of the seal of Sir Elijah Impey found on folios form the Impey Album, see Glenn Lowry and Milo Cleveland Beach, An Annotated and Illustrated Checklist of the Vever Collection, 1988, p. 397, nos. 346, 347, 348 and 416.

    Sir Elijah Impey was the Chief Justice of Bengal from 1774-1782. His wife Mary, Lady Impey, joined him in Calcutta between 1777 and 1783. Like many of the English who worked in India in the 18th Century, Sir Elijah and Lady Impey were of enquiring mind, keenly interested in the exotic and mysterious atmosphere of India, its flora and its fauna. Lady Impey kept a private zoo on their large estate and assembled rare species of birds and animals, from which her Indian painters drew studies from life.

    She employed three painters who signed themselves 'Native of Patna'. They were Shaikh Zayn-al-Din, and Muslim and most senior of the three painters, and Bhawani Das and Ram Das, both Hindus, who joined Shaikh Zayn-al-Din three years after his arrival in Calcutta. These natives of Patna, 300 miles up river from Calcutta, were trained in the naturalistic Mughal tradition.

    The Mughal style appealed directly to English taste. The painters, coming from a disciplined and exacting tradition, adapted with remarkable speed to the foreign Company manner (S.C. Welch, India: Art and Culture 1300-1900, London, 1985, p. 422). The use of living examples from the Impey zoo, in combination with the Mughal inheritance of perceptive portraiture, resulted in studies of great vitality and vivid characterisation (T. Falk, Birds in an Indian Garden: Nineteen Illustrations from the Impey Collection, London, 1984, pp. 2-3). For the art of bird illustration, 'this was a great advance beyond the 'bird on a stump' convention still perpetrated by European illustrators of the day (a convention prolonged by the use of stuffed specimens), and a significant forerunner of the works of the great naturalistic bird illustrators of the nineteenth century, notably Audobon' (Falk, op. cit.). Quite simply, these unassuming painters from Patna altered the course of European natural history painting.

    These paintings come from a set of 326, of which 197 were studies of birds, 76 of fish, 28 of reptiles, 17 of beasts and 8 of flowers. The Impeys came back to Lodnon in 1783, bringing their collecion of paintings with them. These were shown to contemporary ornithologists who found them of great scientific as well as artistic interest.

    After Sir Elijah's death in 1809, the collection was sold by auction at Phillips of New Bond Street, on the 21 May 1810. The largest group was purchased by Archibald Impey, his natural son, whose widow Mrs. Sarah Impey, bequeathed their collection to the Linnaen Society, London, in 1855.

    Examples from the Impey series of natural history drawings are in the collections of the Wellcome Institute in London; Victoria and Albert Museum in London; the Radcliffe Science Library in Oxford; the Binney Collection in San Diego and private collections in Europe and America.
    For a watercolour of a collared dove by the senior Impey artist, Shaikh Zayn-al-Din, see lot 272.

    Special Notice

    No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 15% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.

    Pre-Lot Text



    T. Falk and G. Hayter, Birds in an Indian Garden: Nineteen Illustrations from the Impey Collection, 12 June to 14 July, 1984
    Michael Goodhuis Ltd., Colnaghi Oriental in association with Mallet and Son (Antiques) Ltd.
    A Journey Through India: Company School Pictures, Spink & Son, London, 1996.