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A glimpse of old ‘exotic’ India

art and culture Updated: Oct 23, 2009 22:20 IST
Gargi Gupta
Gargi Gupta
Hindustan Times
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After Mumbai and Jodhpur, it’s Delhi’s turn for a dekho of Indian Life and Landscape by Western Artists, a collection from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, of 94 rare paintings by European artists who visited India between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries. The touring exhibition will be housed at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) from October 27 to December 6.

Principal among these are a few works by Thomas and William Daniell, the well-known uncle-nephew artist duo who toured through the country widely in the late 1700s, sketching and painting the architecture and landscape. These were then turned into hand-coloured aquatint engravings, later published as a book, Oriental Scenery. The Daniells’ aquatints were more or less the West’s first glimpse of exotic India, the land they had then only recently started trade with.

Paintings in this early anthropomorphic mode soon gave way to the richer and more dramatic oils and watercolours of ‘Romantic’ artists like William Carpenter (in India from 1850 to 1857), William Simpson (in India in the 1850s, painted scenes of the 1857 mutiny), Robert Melville Grindley (early nineteenth century) and Samuel Howitt (around the same time, specialised in hunting scenes).

The other notable name whose works can be seen at the NGMA is John Lockwood Kipling, father of Rudyard Kipling. The former was commissioned by the Raj government to tour the north-west provinces in 1870 and sketch the Indian craftsmen of the area. The result — a set of delightful sepia-tinted images of mithai sellers almost hidden behind mounds of sweets, farmers harvesting by hand and weavers on the loom.

The collection showed last year at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya in Mumbai and later at the museum in Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur.