The work is inscribed “Khorara,” indicating that the bird was found or sketched there, and/or the painting executed there. Khorara is a South Indian village in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The work, dated 1880, was likely done by a British naturalist, or on commission by a native Indian artist. It was apparently created in reference to Volume 3 of Thomas Claverhill Jerdon’s guidebook The Birds of India (1864), in which Botaurus stellaris is listed as number 936 (the title of the work). The reference to Jerdon’s book is further indicated by excerpts from Jerdon’s text that are hand lettered in ink in the watercolor, lower left. A portion of the original text by Jerdon is reprinted below, with the excerpts appearing in manuscript on the painting italicized:
The Bittern of Europe is found throughout Central and Northern India, but is rare or wanting in the South. I have known of its having been killed in the Deccan, and I have shot it in Central India and Bengal. It frequents long grass or reeds by the sides of tanks or rivers, and swampy ground covered with long grass. It is quite nocturnal in its habits, and breeds on the ground, near water, making a large nest of sticks, reeds, &c., and laying, it is said, four or five pale asparagus-green eggs. The Bittern feeds on frogs, fish, &c., and it is recorded that a Water-Rail entire was taken out of the stomach of one in Scotland. It is said to utter its booming call in the air rising to some height. It is excellent eating, not fishy in the smallest degree, and has a high game flavour. The Bittern is found throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa.
The term “Anglo Indian School” refers to works of art (and also decorative arts) of Indian subject matter in the English taste — often with Indian artistic influence — produced in India during the period of the British colonial presence there. This period was roughly from the mid 18th century, when British colonial settlement and rule in India began, to the mid 20th century, when India achieved independence. Anglo Indian art works by indigenous Indian artists were often in bright colors and with a meticulous attention to detail, combining Indian and English artistic styles and sensibilities. They were generally produced in watercolor as souvenirs for Englishmen living or traveling in India, and for export to Great Britain. Many were done on paper imported from British manufacturers, such as James Whatman (watermarked “J. WHATMAN,” sometimes with the date of manufacture). The term Anglo Indian Art also has been applied to works by professional and amateur British artists living in India in the colonial period. These include landscapes and scenes from daily life that appealed to the British public’s fascination with these distant lands of the British Empire. Some of these original watercolors served as source material for prints subsequently produced in Britain, often for travel and natural history color plate books.
Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall light toning and wear. Small faint stain, lower margin. Lower left and right corners cut as chamfered. Laid on card, apparently long ago. Professionally floated on a cream mat, and framed in maple by J. Pocker, New York City.
Jerdon, Thomas Claverhill. The Birds of India, Being a Natural History of All the Birds Known to Inhabit Continental India…Making It a Manual of Ornithology Specially Adapted for India. Vol 3. Calcutta: Military Orphan Press, 1864. Online at Archives.org: https://archive.org/stream/birdsofindiabein03jerd#page/756/mode/2up/search/botaurus (4 November 2013).