1431. Shaikh Zayn Al-Din, Paradise flycatcher

Object description
SHAIKH ZAYN AL-DIN
act 1777-1782
Phalsa tree with paradise flycatcher
Signed and dated 1782. Watercolour and pencil on paper, 53,5 x 75 cm
Inscription: "In the Collection of Lady Impey of Calcutta. Painted by Zayn al-Din Native of Patna 1782"
On the back written with pencil: (12-Other side of fire place)

Sheikh Zayn Al-Din, was a Bengali Muslim artist of the East India Company period and one of the local artists who rose to prominence under European patronage in British Raj.

Zayn Al-Din was an artist of the company period. He was one of the local artists who rose to prominence under European masters. He deserves a rank next to Shaykh Muhammad Amir of Karaya. In the late eighteenth century, he worked under Lady Impey, the wife of Sir Elijah Impey, Chief Justice of Calcutta Supreme Court. Among the three eminent artists she brought from Patna to make realist sketches of birds and animals of her private zoo, Zayn Al-Din was the foremost. All the artists of Mrs. Impey were conversant with decadent Mughal Patna Qalam (pen) or style. When they came in contact with European patrons and artists they adopted European style and technique to keep themselves employed for earning the livelihood. Most of these artists worked by using Mughal Patna Qalam and European technique side by side. From 1777 to 1782 Sheikh Zayn Al-Din worked on Whiteman art paper manufactured in England for his transparent watercolor sketches. For his tinted drawings and sketches, he employed meticulous calligraphic strokes reminiscent of the works of Mughal Court artist Ustad Mansur. The works of Zayn Al-Din breathe an arm of blending of traditional Mughal painting with an admixture of European style. His drawings of mountain-rats, hanging bats, parrots, storks etc. serve as interesting Zoological studies and at the same time, they have high aesthetic qualities. These are now preserved in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

Mary Impey (2 March 1749 - 20 February 1818) was an English natural historian and patron of the arts in Bengal. The wife of Elijah Impey, the Chief Justice of Bengal, she established a menagerie in Calcutta and commissioned Indian artists to paint the various creatures.
Born Mary Reade in Oxfordshire, she was the eldest of the three children of John and Harriet Reade. In 1768, at Hammersmith parish church (Fulham North Side) then just outside London, she married a thirty-six year old barrister, Elijah Impey, and over the next five years bore him four children. In 1773, Elijah Impey was made chief justice of Fort William in Bengal and the couple moved to India, leaving the children with their father's brother in Hammersmith. In 1775, having settled in Fort William, Impey started a collection of native birds and animals on the extensive gardens of the estate, which had formerly been that of Henry Vansittart, governor of Bengal from 1760 to 1764.
Beginning in 1777, Impey hired local artists to paint the various birds, animals and native plants, life-sized where possible, and in natural surroundings. The collection, often known as the Impey Album, is an important example of Company style painting. She also kept extensive notes about habitat and behaviour, which were of great use to later biologists such as John Latham in his work on Indian birds. The three artists who are known were Sheikh Zain al-Din, Bhavani Das and Ram Das. More than half of the over 300 paintings made were of birds. The collection was dispersed in an auction in 1810, and several pieces are in various museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, 3 in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and 18 in the Radcliffe Science Library of the University of Oxford. The pictures given to the Radcliffe Science Library are now on loan to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. Between October 2012 and April 2013 the paintings were exhibited at the Ashmolean as part of an exhibition entitled "Lady Impey's Indian Bird Paintings".