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Indian Life and Landscape by Western Artists

New Delhi: NationalGallery of Modern Art in collaboration with the Victoria and Albert Museum,London, presents Indian Life andLandscape by Western Artists , an exhibition of more than ninety paintingsand drawings from the V&A 1790 –1927, at National Gallery ofModern Art, Jaipur House, New Delhi from October 27, 2009 to December 6, 2009. The exhibition is a collection from London’sVictoria and AlbertMuseum which shows rare andinteresting watercolours, sketches, aquatints, lithographs and engravings byEuropean artists who visited Indiabetween 18 h to 20 th century. Says Prof RajeevLochan, Director, NGMA: “ The first visual representations of Indiaby western artists were of imaginary landscapes and settings. They were basedon the written accounts of travelers to Indiafrom across Europe. It was only after professionalEuropean artists began to travel to India that they painted, for thefirst time, scenes based on direct observation. Their passionate interest inthis new and exciting land led to the creation of a comprehensive pictorialrecord of India,in a visual style familiar to western audiences.”   India’sspectacular architecture, the immense natural beauty of her landscapes, and thegreat diversity of her people have inspired many artists world over. Theexhibition is divided into four sections showcasing the works of variousschools of art. The exhibit begins with a ‘Picturesque’ tour of India throughdramatic pictures of splendid forts, temples, and palaces. The second sectionshowcases works by amateur artists who were captivated by the landscape andarchitecture of India.Many of these amateurs were East India Company employees, who transferred tocanvas their personal experiences. The third section is dedicated to theRomanticism of Indian art that depicts striking, decorative paintings entirelyfrom the imagination. For instance, on view is a panoramic view of the TajMahal, paintings of busy street scenes, majestic princes, and doe-eyed nautchgirls. The fourth section, based on realism, documents the social life andpeople engaged in various professions during that time.   SECTION 1: A PICTURESQUE TOUR OF INDIA   From the mid-eighteenth century, professional Europeanartists began to turn to Indiafor their inspiration. They were attracted by the opportunity to exploreunfamiliar lands, to make their fortune, and to further their reputation.   The beginning of ThePicturesque , a major literary and aesthetic movement in England led toa revolution in western art and promoted a particular way of observing and depictinglandscapes. A typical picturesque scene included elements of roughness andirregularity, the inclusion of old ruined buildings or impressive architecturalstructures added variety and created an evocative atmosphere. India offeredan infinite range of subjects to depict in this manner. The picturesquetradition of the 18 th century helped create the order, balance andserenity of the magnificent aquatints of Indian scenery and architecturecreated by artists such as Thomas and William Daniell . The uncle-nephewduo traveled widely in India,painting magnificent buildings that have now crumbled to dust. Hence, thesepaintings are a priceless record. Ruins of the Palace at Madurai , Fortressof Gingee, in the Carnatic and HinduTemple at Agouree on the River Soane are few examples of their noteworthy works.   SECTION II: AMATEUR ARTISTS   While professional westernartists continued delving deeper into their Indian subjects, amateur artists aswell tried their hand at drawing India. These artists sketched andpainted for their own private pleasure, rather to earn a living through it. Themajority of amateurs were servants of the East India Company or worked ascivilians in the army, using their leisure time for painting. They sometimesformed social groups to share their knowledge. Many worked outside the artisticconventions of the time and had very different levels of skill. Their work alsoforms an important part of the display, as a record of personal experiences. TheTaj Mahal by Thomas Longcroft, A Natch party by Robert Smith and Suspension Bridge at Alipore by Charles D'Oyly are few examplesof works by amateurs that were in no way inferior to their professionalcounterparts.   SECTION III: ROMANTICISM IN INDIA A different view of India was presented by those influencedby the succeeding Romantic movement,which emphasized the wildness and drama of the natural world resulting in some of the moststriking and evocative paintings of India. The movement encouraged artists tofocus on their intuition and imagination and create paintings that evokedstrong emotions. Elements of the picturesque remained within the artist’srepertoire and at the same time, they embraced another aesthetic theory of theperiod, ‘the Sublime’. This favoured the depiction of subjects in a way thatintended to produce a sense of great awe and wonder in the viewer. The dramaticmountainous regions of Indiaand the grand architectural monuments lent themselves to Romanticinterpretation. People were often idealized and portrayed in an enchantingmanner. Artists used their imagination to enhance their work, some, who hadnever been to India,embellished the sketches of others and created engaging and powerful images. Perhapsthe most striking of such paintings on display are William Carpenter’s glowing rendition of the marble interior of theNeminath Temple,titled Interior of the Neminath Temple, Dilwara, Mount Abu . AncientObservatory by William Simpson, A Hindoo Female of the Konkan by Robert Melville Grindlay and Aleopard attacking an antelope by SamuelHowitt are other examples of the romantic school of practice.   SECTION IV: REALISM AND THE INDIAN STUDENT From the 1860s, the arrival of photography and increasedaccess to western illustrations, cultivated a taste in the Indian public forreal-life pictures. Indian artists began to use western modes of representationwhich included figure drawing. This trend was encouraged by the schools of Artin Bombay, Madras,Lahore and Calcuttawhich had come under the control of the colonial government. Artist JohnLockwood Kipling (1837-1911), the father of Rudyard Kipling and John Griffiths(1838-1918)   were appointed as the deanof the J.J School of Art in Mumbai, which produced many top Indian artists,including M. F Husain and F.N Souza. Kipling was commissioned by the governmentto produce a series of studies of crafts people, some of which are displayed inthe exhibit. His sepia-toned images conjure up an age gone by, with sweetmeatsellers almost hidden behind mounds of sweets, farmers harvesting cotton byhand, and weavers creating fabric on the loom. One of John Griffiths’ mostmemorable paintings titled A woman holding a fish on her head, Bombay is his lifelike sketch of a localfisherwoman balancing a massive fish on her head, a classic Bombay scene that can still be seen today.   The charm of the exhibition, thus, lies not just in beingable to travel back to a period in history that will never come back, but alsoget an invaluable sociological document from centuries ago.

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