Indo-Chinese school | The Begum's Book of Birds, eighteenth century, contemporary silk binding
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"The Begum's book of birds", eighteenth century
Folio (378 x 428mm.), 35 watercolour drawings of birds on trees, 11 watercolour drawings of junks (each 333 x 388mm.), later miniature watercolour drawing of a bird stamped "H & C | E & C | 1820" on verso loosely inserted (115 x 187mm.), contemporary silk-lined oblong folio album, rebacked in blue roan, red silk endpapers, housed in a modern blue morocco-backed cloth folding case, some spotting (heavier on first illustration), small hole at lower margin of first illustration, some dust-soiling at margins, a few small closed tears, some light creasing, binding rubbed
This beautiful album contains exquisite watercolour drawings of birds perched on trees with foliage and flowers, probably the work of at least four Indo-Chinese artists, together with a series of watercolour drawings of Chinese Junks. A bookseller's note loosely inserted in the preliminary leaves states that the album was given by the Begum of Bengal in about 1780 to Mrs. Elizabeth Sophia Plowden. An ink inscription to the front free endpaper reads "23 pictures of birds | Mrs. Elizabeth Sophia Plowden" (i.e. Mrs. Richard Chichely Plowden).
Lutfunissa Begum (1740-1790) was the third (but primary) wife of Nawab Siraj ud-Daulah (1733-1757), the last independent Nawab of Bengal. Elizabeth Plowden (née Prosser) was the wife of Richard Chichely Plowden of the Bengal Civil Service, whose papers are now in the National Archive. Elizabeth was resident in India between 1777 and 1790, during which time she achieved some success "collecting and performing the Persian and Hindustani songs of nautch performers at the Lucknow court". She wrote down these songs in European notation and turned them into published arrangements for the harpsichord which became "all the rage in drawing rooms across the British Empire" (British Library, 2018).
For Elizabeth Plowden's biography, see Katherine Butler Schofield, "Sophia Plowden, Khanum Jan, and Hindustani airs", British Library, 2018
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