A Study of a Male Yellow-Footed Green Pigeon (Treron phoenicoptera)
The Yellow-footed Green Pigeon is primarily olive-green in colour with “ashy grey above, uniformly bright yellow below, with a lilac patch on wing-shoulder and a conspicuous band across the blackish wings.”[i] The yellow tufted feathers on the legs make it stand out from other green pigeons and give it its name.
They are found in the scrublands, forests, and cultivated area near towns and villages of southern Asia from Pakistan and India through to some sightings in Sri Lanka. They perch on banyan and peepul trees, feeding mainly on fruits and berries, especially peepul figs. Their colouration helps with camouflage amongst the trees. They are locally known as Hariyal in Hindi and Marathi, as well as Haroli in the latter. Hariyal means green, referring to the olive-green colour of the bird’s feathers. The painter’s intention to paint a scientific painting with accuracy and not simply as a decorative piece is visible through the attention to detail. Extraordinary attention is paid to the feathers and the changing colours across the bird’s body. The male is shown with brighter colouration, seen particularly in the purple shoulder and the yellow feathers on the legs. The glistening eye is highlighted by the white ring around it.
Below the painting is an inscription in Persianised-Urdu saying “Haral” and the number 476 on the lower right. An inscription in ink in English reads “Purple shouldered Pigeon Lath. Sup. Strabo. B.C. male”.
[i] Ali, Salim, and Ripley S. Dillon. Handbook of the Birds of India and Pakistan, Together with Those of Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and Ceylon. Vol. 3. 10 vols. Bombay: Oxford University Press, 1968, p. 108
Provenance: Two striking paintings of the Yellow-footed green Pigeon (Treron phoenicoptera) from the collection of the French general, architect, surveyor, gunsmith, banker and botanist, Claude Martin. Martin was initially based in Fort William in Calcutta before moving to Lucknow where he lived from 1776 until his death and where he had a close relationship with the Nawab of Awadh, Mirza Asaf-ud-Daula. Through indigo cultivation, money-lending and serving the Nawab, he became extremely wealthy. He used his wealth to patronise painters, build schools and explore his scientific interests. Martin’s keen interest in paintings is reflected in the fact that by the time of his death, his collection included over 650 Company School paintings of birds, all painted by Mughal-trained painters.
According to Rosie Llewellyn-Jones, “a small number of birds were kept at the Majafgarh [sic] estate, probably housed in elegant bamboo cages. These included pigeons, parrots, cuckoos, a nightingale (bulbul), partridges and the Indian robin. Martin mentions a caged songbird that was sent from Lucknow to Najafgarh, but which died on the journey. He ordered the carrier to refund the ten rupees cost of the bird. Water birds could be found along the banks of the Ganges at Najafgarh or the Gomti in Lucknow. But the birds of prey, on their perches, are harder to identify. Unlike the Nawab and his courtiers, Martin was not a keens huntsman.”[ii] It was, in fact, the Nawab who had the largest collection of birds in Awadh. It is possible that Claude Martin had access to some of them or commissioned the paintings of these birds from the Nawab’s collection, though no written proof of this has yet been found.
The numbering of these paintings and those found in The Lucknow Menagerie Hobhouse catalogue indicates that there were at least 658 drawings of birds, 600 of plants, 606 of reptiles and some animals, that have now been dispersed across many private collections. Martin kept a store of European paper, and the paper used for these paintings would have been made c. 1760-1780. These paintings would have been executed between Martin’s arrival in Lucknow and 1785. This would place them 20 years ahead of the Marquis of Wellesley’s collection in Calcutta but around the time of those made in Patna under Sir Elijah and Lady Impey’s commission between 1774 and 1782. Impey visited Martin in 1781-2 and it is possible his visit inspired this project.
[ii] Llewellyn-Jones, Rosie, “Claude Martin, An Enlightened Collector”, in Hobhouse, Niall, The Lucknow Menagerie: Natural History Drawings from the Collection of Claude Martin (1735-1800), May 2001.