Two Sides of a Bengal River Fish

Object Name: Illustrated single work

Date: ca. 1804

Geography: Made in India, Calcutta

Medium: Pencil, opaque watercolor, and gold on paper

Dimensions: Painting: H. 15 1/16 (38.3 cm)
W. 21 1/8 in. (53.7 cm)
Mat (Standard frame C): H. 22 1/4 (56.5 cm)
W. 28 1/8 in. (71.4 cm)

Classification: Codices

Credit Line: Louis E. and Theresa S. Seley Purchase Fund for Islamic Art, 2004

Accession Number: 2004.176


This painting most likely illustrates a Bengal tongue sole fish (Cynoglossus cynoglossus), so-called for its unusual flat shape. The artist who created this work has illustrated two views—top and bottom—of the same creature, executed on paper in pencil and watercolor with traces of gilding. The mottled, scaly surface of the fish’s body is carefully rendered with a subtle metallic sheen, as are its mouth and eyes and the dark spots along the body.
The work is from the collection of Marquis Wellesley, governor-general of India between 1798 and 1805. His collection of natural history paintings numbered around 2,660 folios depicting plants, birds, mammals, insects, and fish. In his important position, Wellesley regularly received presents of rare flowers, birds, and animals from East India Company servants all over India and from travelers visiting from further east. The gifts were kept in a magnificent menagerie and recorded in paintings such as these.