All parts of the oleander plant (Nerium odorum) are very poisonous. If ingested it can cause heart failure, with symptoms similar to those caused by foxglove (Digitalis) juice; like digitalis it can be used in very small doses to slow the heart rate. Recently it has been used in a widely-promoted skincare treatment, NeriumAD rejuvenating cream.
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries the East India Company controlled much of the Indian subcontinent. Keen to exploit and export valuable natural commodities, the Company set out to record the flora of India and commissioned Indian artists to create detailed botanical illustrations. Many of the plants were known through their use in Ayurvedic medicine. One of the world’s oldest medicinal systems, it has been practised in India for 3,000 years.
Company School style paintings became popular with wealthy Europeans. It was not uncommon for East India Company officials (who were not employed as medics or botanists) to build their own personal collections of paintings depicting Indian flora and fauna. We cannot be sure how local amateur botanist Richard Cresswell came by this collection of 86 Company School works. It is possible Henry Creighton commissioned them during his time as a judge in Calcutta and that on his death the works came back to the UK with his granddaughter Frances who later married Richard Cresswell.
Some drawings in this collection, including this one are signed on the reverse. The artist’s name, Bhawani Das, is written in English and Bengali. He is known to have worked for Lady Mary Impey, wife of Sir Elijah Impey the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Calcutta. It is probable that Creighton and Impey knew each other.