Bhawani Das’s Great Indian Fruit Bat

The pioneering 18th-century Indian artist combined eastern and western methods of painting

Bat man …

At first glance, this fruit bat depicted in delicate detail against a background of bare English watercolour paper might be a European natural history drawing. However, its creator, Bhawani Das, had originally been trained in the luminously coloured, exquisitely detailed and patterned paintings of the Mughal tradition of south Asia, qualities that all leave their mark on his watercolour, created between 1778 and 1782.

Animal magic …

The fruit bat is one of the famed watercolours in the Impey Album, masterminded by Lady Mary Impey, who assembled top talents to capture the inhabitants of her private zoo. The wife of the chief justice of Bengal, she was one of many East India Company colonists to employ local artists.

Go your own way …

Once christened “company painting”, for too long the emphasis has been on the genre’s patrons not the creators. Das is now considered a frontrunner among the 18th- and 19th-century artists who forged a hybrid style as a result of these new commissions.

Included in Forgotten Masters: Indian Painting for the East India Company, Wallace Collection, W1, to 19 April

Contributor

Skye Sherwin

The GuardianTramp

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