A Spotted Forktail

Historical period(s)
Mughal dynasty, Reign of Jahangir, 19th century
Mughal Court
Mughal School
Opaque watercolor and gold on paper
H x W: 11.4 x 20.5 cm (4 1/2 x 8 1/16 in)
Credit Line
Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Freer Gallery of Art Collection
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view

Album leaf with painting

bird, India, Mughal dynasty (1526 - 1858), Reign of Jahangir (1605 - 1627), spotted forktail
Provenance research underway.

This nineteenth-century bird study, inscribed to artists of the seventeenth century, is intriguing in that it challenges the Western notion of a copy as not merely an inferior work but actually a forgery. Indian artists did not consider it inappropriate or deceitful to closely copy a fine painting, including even the original artist's signature. Rather, they looked upon it as a tribute to the earlier artist.

The Spotted Forktail is a Himalayan bird that lives near streams that run through densly forested ravines. Its black-and-white plumage provides camouflage among the rocks and water as it searches for insects. To produce this copy of a work by the noted seventeenth-century artist Abul Hasan, the artist has inverted a tracing of the original, thereby reversing the image. He has misattributed it to the other famed natural history painter, Mansur. An inner border of rhyming couplets and a second border of palmettes and flower heads separate the painting from its wide outer floral border.

Published References
  • Sport in Art: Some Wonderful Birds. vol. 1, no. 9, October 11, 1954. p. 62.
  • Milo Cleveland Beach. The Imperial Image: Paintings for the Mughal Court. Exh. cat. Washington, 1981. p. 189, fig. 33.
Collection Area(s)
South Asian and Himalayan Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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