Opium cultivation scene - 1865
Watercolour on paper
William Simpson was born in Glasgow in 1823. He worked at a specialist lithographic firm, where he learned the art of lithography, before moving to London and working for the publishing firm William Day and Son. In 1859 the firm commissioned Simpson to visit India and make drawings for a book illustrating well-known places associated with the 1857 uprising of the Indian army against their British officers. Simpson visited India four times over the next 25 years, making many rapid pencil sketches of a great range of subjects. These formed the basis for finished watercolours for the projected book. Unfortunately, Day and Son went into liquidation in 1867 and two years later Simpson’s collection of 250 watercolours was sold off as bankrupt stock.
A woman is seen here harvesting opium under the spreading branches of a banyan tree. She is making cuts in the poppy heads, releasing the raw opium in the form of a sticky resin, which is then gathered. This opium is being harvested in Malwa, central India, an area that had been important for opium production since the 16th century.
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