Rare Indian art displayed in London exhibition
Exquisite colonial-era paintings by artists such as Shaikh Zain ud-Din, Bhawani Das and Ghulam Ali Khan have been brought together for the first time in a major exhibition that shifts the focus from ‘Company School’ of painting to lesser known artists.
Titled ‘Forgotten Masters: Indian Painting for the East India Company’, the exhibition has opened at the Wallace Collection until April, showcasing artwork from various collections across the globe, curated by writer William Dalrymple.
The paintings were commissioned during the late eighteenth and nineteen centuries by East India Company officials and their wives, as well as by itinerant British artists and intellectuals passing through India for pleasure and instruction.
Comprising work from a variety of Indian traditions, organisers say the exhibition belatedly honours historically overlooked artists such as Shaikh Zain ud-Din, Bhawani Das, Shaikh Mohammad Amir of Karriah, Sita Ram, Bahadur Singh, Mihr Chand and Ghulam Ali Khan.
“The exhibition highlights the conversation between traditional Indian, Islamic and Western schools and features works from Mughal, Marathi, Punjabi, Pahari, Tamil and Telugu artists”, the organisers say.
The focus is on main centres of what has traditionally been described as the ‘Company School’ of painting: Calcutta and Lucknow, where Mughal painters from Murshidabad, Patna and Faizabad were employed; colonial Madras and Tanjore, where artists from south Indian traditions received patronage; and Delhi, where Mughal artists were based.
The exhibition includes a Mughal dagger, which was owned by a East India Company patron of this period: Claude Martin, who commissioned artists to create works of art depicting the flora, fauna and daily life in colonial India.
Xavier Bray of the Wallace Collection said: “We hope this exhibition will introduce a wider audience to one of the most interesting but often underappreciated phases of Indian painting, as well as explore the Wallace’s rich collection of Mughal arms and armour”.
Dalrymple added: “Forgotten Masters showcases the work of a series of extraordinary Indian artists, each with their own style and tastes and agency, whose brilliance has been frequently overlooked until now”.
“These masterpieces combine Indian and European influences to create rich, hybrid works which reflect the cultural fluidity of this period in India’s history.”