Arts of the Islamic World and India

Arts of the Islamic World and India

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 130. An Asian Openbill Stork (Anastomus Oscitans) in a landscape, India, Company School, Lucknow, circa 1780.

An Asian Openbill Stork (Anastomus Oscitans) in a landscape, India, Company School, Lucknow, circa 1780

Auction Closed

April 24, 03:45 PM GMT


60,000 - 80,000 GBP

Lot Details


pencil, pen and ink, watercolour on paper, inscribed in French at upper left ''Rhynchochafine/ Lebec ouvert de Mr. de Buffon'', numbered '618' in Urdu numerals at lower left, with further Urdu identification inscription in nasta'liq script ''ghunghal'' and numbered '37' at lower right

64 by 47.8cm.

Major General Claude Martin (1735-1800)

Paul F. Walter (1935-2017), New York

Christie's, London, 25 May 1995, lot 29

Niall Hobhouse, London

George McFadden, New York

Pratapaditya Pal and Vidya Dehejia, From Merchants to Emperors: British artists and India, 1757-1930, London, 1986, p.167, fig.173

William Dalrymple (ed.), Forgotten Masters: Indian Painting for the East India Company, The Wallace Collection, exhibition catalogue, London, 2019, no.5

From Merchants to Emperors: British artists and India, 1757-1930, The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, 1 May - 31 July 1986; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 9 September 1986 - 4 January 1987

Forgotten Masters: Indian Painting for the East India Company, The Wallace Collection, London, 3 December 2019 - 13 September 2020

The Asian Openbill Stork is a largely white and grey bird, with black flight feathers, pinkish legs and a distinct stout open bill, as indicated by its name. It is often found in the plains of the Indian subcontinent in freshwater marshes, shallow lakes and paddy fields, and mainly feeds on molluscs.

This impressive illustration of an Asian Openbill Stork was formerly in the collection of Major General Claude Martin (1735-1800), painted while he was in the service of Nawab Asaf ud-Daula of Lucknow during the last quarter of the eighteenth century. Born in Lyon, France, in 1735, Martin joined the French Compagnie des Indes in 1751 at the age of sixteen. He was posted to India, where he fought with the French against the English East India Company during the second and third Carnatic Wars. However, by 1760, he had become disillusioned with the long-term prospects of the French in India and defected to the British side. He served with the Bengal Army of the East India Company, rising through the ranks to become a Major General. He was posted to Lucknow in 1776 where he was appointed Superintendent of the Arsenal by the Nawab of Awadh, Asaf ud-Daula, whilst still in the service of the English East India Company.


In the 1770s, Martin imported 17,000 sheets of European paper and commissioned the master artists of Lucknow to work on a series of natural history illustrations including birds, plants and reptiles. It seems likely that the artists working on these illustrations based their subjects on Martin’s aviary. He is known to have kept a small aviary based at Najafgarh, his country estate on the banks of the Ganges (Llewellyn-Jones 2019, p.27 and footnote 3, p.183). The Nawab of Awadh also had a private aviary in the gardens of the Macchi Bhawan Palace. It was the largest collection of birds in Lucknow and required thirty-five bird-keepers (Hobhouse 2001, unpaginated). Our portrait of an Asian Openbill Stork was probably produced at this time, making it one of the earliest works by a Mughal artist under the patronage of an East India Company official.


The large scale of the stork towering over a miniaturised landscape is a characteristic feature of Company School painting at Lucknow in the late eighteenth century. Artists working in Lucknow and Faizabad, such as Mihr Chand and Bahadur Singh, were very receptive to European ideas of rendering space and volume. The receding landscape with the diminutive, scattered shrubs and the shadow cast by the bird are European influences on Lucknow painting of this period. It is worth noting that the artist of the present painting has even depicted the shrubs in the background with their own little shadows. Painting the bird in profile and the meticulous attention given to detail in depicting every feather is a continuation of the artist’s Mughal training. Artists in Lucknow would have been aware of the work of Ustad Mansur (fl.1590-1624), the most well-known painter of natural history illustrations at the Mughal court in the seventeenth century, active during the reign of the Mughal Emperors Akbar and Jahangir.


For a study of the natural history drawings made for Claude Martin at Lucknow, together with a catalogue of 76 of these drawings which were later in the collection of the first Earl of Liverpool, see Hobhouse 2001. The numbering on the present painting and on other illustrations in the Hobhouse catalogue implies that there were around 658 drawings of birds commissioned by Martin. Rose Llewellyn-Jones’s introduction to the catalogue mentions a 'Histoire des Oiseaux' listed in Claude Martin’s inventory. This is thought to refer to an encyclopaedic work on birds, Histoire Naturelle des Oiseau by George Louis Le Clerc, Comte de Buffon, which was published in ten volumes between 1771 and 1786. Buffon’s birds are sometimes depicted in their habitat, which was considered quite unusual for ornithological illustrations at that time. It is possible that Martin’s illustrations were influenced by this publication as his birds are also depicted in their natural surroundings – in landscape grounds, on tree branches, and on perches.


Illustrations of a Black Stork (or Woolly-Necked Stork) and a Common Indian Nightjar, both depicted in a landscape and dated to circa 1780, also formerly in the collection of Claude Martin, are now in The Metropolitan Museum of Art (; Other studies produced for Claude Martin are published in P. Pal et al. 1972, pl.LXIX; Archer 1992, p.122, no.90; Leach 1983, no.58. Two other albums containing drawings of 43 birds, 4 reptiles, a fox, flowers and plants, were formerly with the booksellers Luzac & Co. Ltd., London.


A Laggar Falcon from this series, formerly in the Sven Gahlin Collection, sold in these rooms, 6 October 2015, lot 38. For an illustration of a Lesser Adjutant Stork formerly in the collection of Claude Martin, depicted in a comparable landscape, and for further discussion on Company School painting in Lucknow, which sold more recently, see Sotheby's, London, In an Indian Garden, 27 October 2021, lot 3.


An illustration of an Asian Openbill Stork eating a snail by the Impey artist Shaykh Zayn al-Din, dated 1781 and formerly in the collection of the Earls of Derby, is in the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut (acc. no.B2016.26).