Rare Bird Paintings I

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Antonia Munroe’s Rare Bird Paintings are directly inspired by the English naturalist, Mark Catesby (1683-1749) and the Indian artist Ustad Mansur (flourished 1590-1624).

Catesby, an explorer and scientist traveled extensively throughout the Carolinas and Virginia painting birds, plants and animals. His “Natural History of America” was the first published work illustrated in detailed watercolor and describing the birds of North America. Ustad Mansur was a court painter to the Mughal emperor Jahangir and it was under Jahangir’s patronage that Mansur created many exquisite albums of bird, animal and flower studies.

In the winter of 2014 Munroe traveled to Jaipur, India to study the techniques of Indian miniature painting with artist Ajay Sharma. In keeping with the traditional process Munroe uses hand-ground pure pigment dispersions which are blended with a binder to create gouache, the original medium used by Ustad Mansur. While paintings of this period were always on heavy manuscript paper, Munroe paints on panels prepared with gesso and pigmented clay. Her avian subjects are embellished with flowers, vines and borders with repeating motifs, often in pure gold or silver pigment.

Mark Catesby’s birds were observed and recorded as scientific research for a continent as yet unexplored. He declared that the “Birds of America excelled those of Europe in the beauty of their plumage but were much inferior to them in their melodious notes.”

Ustad Mansur’s birds were made as natural history subjects and he was bestowed by the emperor the title of ‘Wonder of the Age.’ While his birds were for the most part carefully depicted, at times Mansur strayed from the recording of history and created birds which were imaginary or entirely inaccurate!

©Antonia Munroe