Art/ Collection/ Art Object

An Orange-Headed Ground Thrush and a Death's-Head Moth on a Purple Ebony Orchid Branch

Shaikh Zain al–Din
Object Name:
Illustrated album leaf
dated 1778
Made in India, Calcutta
Opaque watercolor and ink on paper
Painting: H. 23.5 in. (59.7 cm) W. 31.5 in. (80 cm) Mat: H. 30 in. (76.2 cm) W. 40 in. (101.6 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Friends of Islamic Art Gifts, 2012
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 464
This natural study comes from a famous collection of works commissioned by the Chief Justice of Bengal, Sir Elijah Impey, and his wife, Lady Mary. The original album included 326 paintings, many of which, like the one here, were distinctively inscribed in Persian with the name of the artist and in English in Lady Impey’s hand. This work has been signed by Shaikh Zain al-Din, and both inscriptions can be seen at lower left. Zain al-Din, who is considered the foremost artist to have worked on Impey’s album, is believed to have painted from life, which accounts for the naturalism of his work. The bird in this picture appears to step up on the branch of the Bauhinia purpurea, while the moth rests lightly on the flower to drink its nectar. Although he was trained in Mughal techniques, the absence of landscape and even ground color derives from European natural history paintings, indicating that the artist was also familiar with European prints.
Signature: Shaikh Zain al–Din

Inscription: Lower left: in Persian, daman darakht kuchnar (portion of an orchid tree);
in English (with the artist’s name in Persian): In the Collection of Lady Impey in Calcutta. Painted by [Shaikh] Zain al-Din Native of Patna 1778.
Sir Elijah and Lady Impey, Calcutta (1778–his d. 1810; sale Phillips Auction Room,London, May 21, 1810); [ Eyre and Hobhouse, London, until 1983]; Private collection, USA (1983–2012); [ Oliver Forge and Brendan Lynch Ltd., London, 2012; sold to MMA]
Eyre, Giles, and Niall Hobhouse. Indian Painting, 1760–1870. London: Eyre and Hobhouse, 1983.

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