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CLAUDE MARTIN (1735-1800) AND THE LUCKNOW MENAGERIE
(lots 18, 19, 20, 22 and 23)
In addition to his roles as soldier, architect, surveyor, gunsmith, banker and botanist, Martin was a great connoisseur, patron of the arts, and very much a man of the European Enlightenment. Within eighteen months of the Montgolfier Brothers' first manned flight in a hot-air balloon over Paris, Martin had both built and flown several of his own balloons at Lucknow.
A study of the paper of the following lots suggests a date of circa 1785, at which date drawings of birds were rare in British India; The Marquis of Wellesley was not to form his collection of natural history drawings until twenty years later at his country estate at Barrackpore outside Calcutta. The only other European patrons focusing on Natural History collecting were Sir Elijah and Lady Impey, who commissioned their collection between 1774-1782 in Calcutta, where Impey was Chief Justice of Bengal. Impey visited Martin in 1781-2 and it is possible his visit inspired this project.
The Calcutta School Botanical drawings included in lot 360 were based on a European model and it has been suggested that the Martin Natural Drawings were based on the format of the Histoire Naturelle des Oiseaux, by George Louis Le Clerc, Comte de Bouffon, published in ten volumes between 1771-1786, which are also painted from life, in landscape and to scale. Martin's original collection comprised no less than 658 birds, 600 plants and 606 reptiles as well as drawings of mammals. The scale and ambition of Martin's project was not equalled until Dr. Francis Buchanan, commissioned drawings at the East India Company's botanical Garden at Sibpur Calcutta in 1793 and Wellesley's commission of 2,660 natural history folios at Fort William from 1798-1805. Martin's work appears to have been among the very first attempts by a European to seriously catalogue India's flora and fauna.
In the 1760s, the artist Mibr Chand introduced to the Lucknow School European ideas on the rendering of space and volume. In the present watercolour this can be seen in the landscape, with its flat ground fading to blue in the distance, bisected by a river, and with highly distinctive diminutive trees. Another western feature, not quite so well observed here, is the preoccupation with the casting of shadows.
Such paintings are rare as many were destroyed in the sack of the Lucknow palaces in 1857. Similar examples were sold at Christie's London, 25 May 1995, lot 29 and 30 September, 1997, lots 1-20.