The fish paintings by Elizabeth Gwillim are currently being conserved by McGill Library and offer a historical record of local fish as well as the village fishing traditions. A case study by Shyamal Lakshminarayanan and Hana Nikčević in the forthcoming book, Women, Environment, and Empire: Elizabeth Gwillim and Mary Symonds in Madras discusses the paintings and their interest in the local fishing culture. They note that the paintings of fish are often depicted in negative space or with the slightest suggestion of water in contrast to Elizabeth's bird paintings or Mary’s rich scenes of fishermen in action. The sisters often traveled to market, in 1806 going as far as the village of Kovalam/Covelong. Elizabeth describes the experience in a letter to Esther Symonds, drawing a line between familiar and exotic:
“The rocks and rivers are romantic as Wales, though the hills are not lofty, and the place is abundant in rarities. It is particularly curious for fish. There are fish to be found in no other part of the world, and had I not seen them I could not have believed that such or such varieties existed. There is every colour: red fish of every tint, green, purple, and yellow, and striped like the most showy flowers, many as if wholly composed of rows of jewels, rubies and topazes set in chains. Mary drew above thirty sorts, but that is a mere trifle––it would take an age to do them all. She intends to have sent home these drawings…"
(Elizabeth Gwillim to Esther Symonds, received in England in 1806)
The book emphasizes that Elizabeth attributes over thirty images to Mary, the remaining images could be by either sister. The Gwillim Project is grateful for the hard work of The Indian Council of Agricultural Research, Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute for going through the entirety of the collection and re-identifing the paintings of fish. The archival collections catalogue will be finalized with this important input.