'Java' ducks, of the title inscribed on this watercolour, are Lesser Whistling Ducks, called so because of their loud two-note wheezy call, and are native to India and South East Asia. This specimen is more likely to be the very similar Fulvous Whistling Duck, which has a white rump and is native to the West Indies where the family of the artist had property, on Antigua and St. Kitt’s. They perch in trees (the ducks, not the Conyers family).
The Maas Gallery bought an album of watercolours, mostly botanical, by members of the Conyers family of Copped Hall in Essex, done in the 1770s. Matilda and her older sister Caroline were the best painters of the five children. The attribution to Caroline rather than to Matilda is on the basis of distinctions of style evident in other, identified, watercolours in other albums which were for sale at the same time.
During Caroline Conyers' formative years great strides were made in the study of botany, for in 1760 the Dowager Princess of Wales established the famous botanical gardens at Kew. Sir Joseph Banks took charge in 1772, on his return from a three-year round the world voyage with Captain Cook, during which they had collected thousands of previously unknown “exotick” plants. Cultivated in the hothouses of Kew, these new species became the subject of enormous public and scientific interest, and inspired a new generation of artists. The most famous of these, Georg Dionsyius Ehret (1708-1770), taught pupils from English aristocratic families, and the legacy of his influence is clearly discernible in Conyers’ work.
Conyers chose for the most part to paint on vellum – a material favoured by artists for its smooth and even surface. It is a support particularly suited to the detailed depiction of flowers and animals.
A Georgian Garden: Botanical Studies of the Eighteenth Century by Matilda Conyers (1753- 1803), with Thomas Williams Fine Art, at Stair and Company, New York City, 16 April-3 May 1997