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Unknown artists pay tribute to birds

Imagine entering into a gallery to view an artwork but hear chirping of birds simultaneously. As surreal as it sounds but DAG is providing a one-of-a-kind experience to art enthusiasts in its latest show, Birds of India.

The exhibition features paintings of some of the unknown Indian artists through 125 species of birds from across the subcontinent. They were originally commissioned by the East India Company in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

An image of Black Drongo (Dicrurus macrocercus) being showcased in the exhibition

Dr Giles Tillotson, Senior VP Exhibitions and Publications, DAG, who is also the curator of the show, while describing the exhibition said, “Company paintings as the term means works made by Indian artists, generally towards the end of 18th century and early 19th century working for European patrons, typically members of the European trading companies like the East India Company. It is the coming together of two worlds where artists who have been trained in the very refined techniques of Indian coal paintings were supplied with the materials of English-made paper, turning their focus on to objects in the world.”

The gallery has made the entire experience interactive. They have added a QR code to a collection of artworks for visitors to listen to the sounds of birds featured in the exhibition. The paintings depict intricate details of birds - one can see each feather and colours that make birds naturally beautiful. Some of the birds include raptors, game birds and coastal waders along with woodland and forest birds.

The birds that have made it to the showcase are Indian roller, black-hooded oriole, Indian grey hornbill, greater coucal, purple swamphen, streaked rosefinch, black redstart, common stonechat, white-rumped shama, and plain prinia, to name a few.

Hoopoe (Upapa epos)

The entire showcase is divided into four groups. The most extraordinary ones, i.e., 99 paintings date back to 1800-1804. There is also a 1810 album of birds from north-east India in vivid colours and the Faber album from 1830 wherein the artist’s observations have contributed to the ornithological studies. Besides this, there are the 4 folios by Chuni Lal, an artist from Patna, who is the only one artist that remains identified from the never-seen-before 1835 Edward Inge album. Together these four groups illustrate the development of Company Paintings through a single genre.

The show is on display till October 6, 2021, and is open to public at DAG, The Claridges, New Delhi.

An image of black-hooded oriole (oriolus xanthornus) being showcased at the exhibition

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