A study of a Stork, from the Lady Impey Series, signed by Shaykh Zayn al-Din, Company School, Calcutta, dated 1781
- watercolour and drawing on paper
- approx. 54 by 75cm.
His estate sale, Phillips, New Bond Street, London, 21 May 1810.
Ex-collection Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, New York.
Sotheby's New York, The Estate of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, 23-26 April 1996, lot 44.
Sir Elijah Impey was appointed the first Chief Justice of Bengal in 1774, taking his wife and household with him, along with a moonshee to teach him Persian. They settled in the house previously occupied by Henry Vansittart, the governor-general of Bengal from 1760 to 1764, which was surrounded by a large park. Sir Elijah collected manuscripts and miniatures (see lot 18 in this sale) and had his personal seal cut soon after his arrival (many of the natural history illustrations bear his seal impression on the reverse, although these are often obscured by later mounting). His wife Mary developed an interest in the flora and fauna of India, and set about collecting animals and birds in the large park attached to the house. From 1777 she employed Shaykh Zayn al-Din, an artist from Patna, to record the various animals and birds in a naturalistic manner. The key to their arresting immediacy is that they were drawn from life, an approach not followed in Europe at the time. By 1780 the project had grown and Lady Impey employed two further artists, Bhawani Das and Ram Das. In 1783 Sir Elijah was recalled to London, by which time over 326 illustrations had been completed. After Sir Elijah's death in 1809, the collection was sold by Phillips of New Bond Street.
Examples from the Impey series are in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, the Radcliffe Science Library, Oxford, the David Collection, Copenhagen, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. A very similar Impey series illustration of a closely related Stork species, also painted in 1781, was formerly in the V. S. Naipaul Collection and is now in the Yale Centre for British Art, see Fraser 2014, no.54, pp.120-123.
The present example has been identified previously as a Milky Stork (Mycteria cinerea, see Falk and Hayter 1983), which is native to Cambodia, Malyasia and Indonesia. However, the Milky Stork is usually much whiter in its plumage and has a more pinkish-red head. A more likely identification might be a juvenile or immature Painted Stork (Mycteria leucocephala) whose plumage is more grey and which has a yellow head, as depicted in the present example. This latter identification is strengthened by the fact that an Impey series illustration of an adult Painted Stork exists (see Sotheby's, London, 23 October 1992, lot 493), and since it was painted one year later than the present illustration, may indeed represent the same actual specimen. Furthermore, the Painted Stork is native to India, where it is a widespread resident of coastal and inland wetlands, feeding on molluscs and fish. The inscription at lower left gives the species as "janghal", which is a general name for herons and related species in Hindi and Persian.
Likened to Durga, the Goddess of Power, during her trip to India in 1962, Jacqueline Kennedy was known to be fond of Indian painting. Indeed, the journalist Suzy Menkes noted in a New York Times article about the Sotheby’s sale of her estate in 1996: “…What a taste for the exotic! The woman who insisted on seeing the Taj Mahal by moonlight and riding an elephant with her sister, Lee Radziwill, on a trip to Pakistan was drawn to miniatures of Mogul gardens” (Published on 6 March 1996). Her interest in the artwork of the Subcontinent may have also been fuelled by her friendship with the renowned American academic, curator, teacher and collector, Stuart Cary Welch, whose legacy in the field of Indian and Middle Eastern Art reached beyond his positions as Lecturer at Harvard University and Curator at Harvard Art Museums (and whose collection of Islamic and Indian art was sold in these rooms in 2011).