An auctioneer turned reseller entrusts a large collection of photos of the company’s school to Sotheby’s
One of the works in the Rochell Collection which was originally part of the Impey Album, this image of a large Indian bat (or “flying fox”) is signed by Bhawani Das and dates to c. 1778-82. It is estimated between £ 300,000 and £ 500,000 at the Sotheby’s sale.
Rochell is well known to Sotheby’s. He spent the first 18 years of his career at the auction house where he founded the Indian and Southeast Asian Art Department in 1988. He was then Managing Director of Sotheby’s Asia and joined the Board. directors of the company before leaving and opening his own gallery in New York in 2002.
The sale is titled ‘Into an Indian Garden’ and will feature 44 paintings across 29 lots with an overall estimate of £ 1.7-2.5million.
About half of the Company School images (works by Indian masters commissioned by East India Company officials in the 18th and 19th centuries) depict birds with others focusing on other animals, flora , human figures and architecture of the Indian subcontinent.
Most have never been exhibited to the public and are emerging for the first time in decades, but seven of the works featured in the 2019-2020 Wallace Collection exhibition Forgotten Masters: Indian Painting for the East India Company, organized by the famous writer and historian William Dalrymple.
The exhibition highlighted how these naturalistic studies on paper linked Indian artistic traditions to European working methods and the exhibition also introduced the British public to some of the best Indian painters working in the late Mughal period such as Shaykh Zayn al- Din, Ram Das, Bhawani Das and Ghulam Ali Khan – all of whom are pictured in the auction.
This sub-sector of the art market has received particular attention lately. Prices have increased dramatically over the past few decades, but more recently the advent of internet research and online auctions has made them more accessible to Indian buyers. Copies auctioned over 20 years ago can now fetch money with an extra “0” added – a noticeable increase especially in a traditional industry like this.
Sotheby’s Sales Manager Benedict Carter explained how the “remarkable hybrid style fusing Mughal and European elements” “was finally getting the attention it deserves,” while Dalrymple said it was ” of a kind that is only now starting to receive its full credit. ” .
The most valuable works in the Rochell collection come from albums commissioned by the Chief Justice of the East India Company, Sir Elijah Impey, and his wife Mary. The couple kept a menagerie of animals in their gardens in Calcutta and hired local artists to paint a total of 326 studies to record the different species between 1777 and 1783 – more than half of which depicted birds.
After the couple brought their extensive collection back to England, the albums were shattered when they were auctioned off in London in 1810. Several studies are now held in international institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the London V&A. Today, the works on the Impey album have significant commercial cachet and dominate the market for company school paintings.
Other works in the sale were commissioned by the Fraser brothers, Viscount Valentia and Major General Claude Martin. The latter was a merchant, soldier, architect, acrobat and collector who did much to spark the fashion among British expatriates to commission and collect such works. Here, a depiction of a minor adjutant stork (Leptoptilos Javanicus) from his collection is estimated to be between £ 60,000 and £ 80,000.
Other former owners of works in the Rochell collection include Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, South Asian painting collector Edwin Binney, scholar and curator Stuart Cary Welch and former United States Ambassador to Morocco, the Hon. . Joseph Verner Reed, Jr.
Rochell said: “I started collecting these lesser-known masterpieces over two decades ago just for my personal enjoyment, my imagination having been captured by their ‘East meets West’ aesthetic. When painted, these works were the primary means by which India could be revealed to those in Britain, who otherwise could only hear tales of this sumptuous land.
“Many years later, as they begin to take their rightful place in world art, these pieces can now inspire a new generation of collectors who I hope will cherish them as I did. . “