Lot 20
  • 20

A study of a Stork, from the Lady Impey Series, signed by Shaykh Zayn al-Din, Company School, Calcutta, dated 1781

60,000 - 80,000 GBP
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  • watercolour and drawing on paper
  • approx. 54 by 75cm.
watercolour on European paper, inscribed at lower left "Jankhal, In the Collection of Lady Impey at Calcutta, Painted by Zayn al-Din Native of Patna 1781", inscribed with the measurements of the Stork at lower left, numbered 130 of original series at upper left and upper right


Sir Elijah Impey (1732-1809) and Lady Impey (1749-1818).
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.


T. Falk and G. Hayter, Birds in an Indian Garden, exh. cat. Michael Goedhuis, Ltd., (Colnaghi Oriental) and Mallet & Son (Antiques) Ltd., London, 12 June - 14 July, 1984


In generally good condition, the paper turning yellow in patches throughout due to the way the page was adhered to its backing (we suspect with a water-based adhesive), and so as such, the water from the adhesive has penetrated the parts of the paper which do not have pigment on them faster, which is why pools of discoloration have concentrated around the pigmented areas. Impey paintings are all known for this condition, and as they were produced with the use of gum arabic, which is highly soluble in water, no treatment is recommended. One could potentially place the work in an alkaline frame to stop any further discoloration. There are some written ink marks appearing from behind near the beak (potentially due to another leaf placed above it or from behind), some minor bubbling to the top right as a result of the way it was mounted. This condition report was done without removing the lot from its frame, as viewed.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

This large and arresting study of a stork is from the great series of bird and animal illustrations painted for Sir Eljiah and Lady Impey between 1777 and 1783, the earliest and without doubt the finest of the natural history series made for the British in India.

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).