Posted on: 13 June 2013

36 years old Thomas Daniell and his nephew William, a lad of sixteen, sailed out from Gravesend in April 1785, destined for the East where they were to spend the next eight years. Of humble origins, they arrived in Calcutta via China early in seventeen eighty-six, looking for wealthy patrons, and to explore the sublime, the exotic and the picturesque country. Their spirit was symptomatic of the first stirring of the romantic movement of the time.

Some of the earliest glimpses of the city of Calcutta - its many new paladian building, roads and river ghats, temple and churches, and forms of transport old and new- are captured in Thomas Daniell's twelve coloured aquatints, Views of Calcutta. " The Lord be praised at length, I have completed my twelve views. The fatigue I have experienced... has almost worn me out. I am advised to make a trip of up the country...", wrote Thomas in November 1788.
A tour of India was a formidable undertaking in those days, but the two Daniells were undaunted. They covered the length and breadth of India in palanquins and bullock carts, on horseback, on foot and on boat, painting Oriental Scenery wherever they went.

The Daniells' magnificent views of Indian landscapes and antiquities in both oils and aquatint made an immediate impact on the British elite. Stylistically correct and conventional as they were, their magnitude and novelty charmed the romantically inclined for whom the Graeco-Roman culture was effete. Motifs were freely borrowed from Oriental Scenery to decorate wallpapers and ceramics, while the flamboyant domes and minarets of the Royal Pavilion extravaganza at Brighton were directly inspired by the Daniells' accurate depiction of Indian architecture. On the whole, their Oriental Scenery largely contributed to the British image of India as a land of romance and glory. Indeed, the Daniells have continued to feed the Raj nostalgia to this day.

The Victoria Memorial has the largest collection of the works by the two Daniells.

More at the Victoria Memorial site:


Thomas Daniell and his nephew William

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The entire collection is not maintained that well. I hope the curator of Victoria Memorial takes this seriously. Simply awful maintenance of such priceless collection.

... I can't see what all the fuss is about myself - some of their work is really good - some of it really bad - hit and miss ...They were both very average artists. Why all of this fascination with the Daniell's and their (largely fictionalised/ embellished) view of the Indian sub-continent ? What were they doing on the Indian sub-continent in the first place? That is the question . Was it because they couldn't crack the market in England ?

I think their work is quite lovely. Taste in the arts is generally subjective and it is hard to tell why some become popular while others do not.

Mr. Craig, what were ALL the English people doing in India? Making their fortunes, apparently......

True, Julian. But they did crack that English market didn't they ? The lithographs were a rage & went on to be printed on pottery & wall-papers too (just like Hodges). ... In today's India, we have yet to get over our colonial hangover. So the walls of flashy hotels & elite clubs like Delhi Gymkhana still proudly display Daniell prints. And expensive home interior brands like " Good Earth" still use colonial era iconography on their pottery ( see "khyber" collection with cheetah-hunting scenes) & Chintz patterns from Paisley town , on their textiles. Both Allahabad museum & Delhi's National museum display - Daniell prints on blue-n-white pottery, once popular in english markets. So many non-resident Indians & the nouveau rich of urban India still collect what english homes throw out ( see - )

They weren't all that bad. After William's return, The Royal Academy exhibited 168 of his paintings and some 70 odd at the British Institution. His magnum opus ' A Voyage Round Great Britain' remains without peer.,709,AR.html

That was a surprisingly uncharacteristic and uncharitable comment... and that too coming from a well-informed collector!!

Re: "What were ALL the English people doing in India? Making their fortunes, apparently" No, not really. This is a very modern, 'populist' perception and represents a very limited understanding of history. Many, many more ' Britishers ' succumbed to the heat or to disease on the sub-continent than the number who ever managed to return to Europe with any sort of significant ' fortune' ... Mortality rates amongst the tiny British community in India ran at about 60% per annum in the late 18th century. A relatively small number of individuals - perhaps less than one thousand people over the fifty year period 1760-1810 (the hay-day of John Company - before government regulation tempered their commercial activities) made any serious money in India. Of course, a very fortunate few did make a stack of cash, and stayed healthy enough to spend it in later life - but the sums involved do not really compare to the annual income of the average 21st century CEO of a major international corporation - and the number of ' Indian ' middle-men and intermediaries (an enitre mercantile class) who benefited from their presence was enormous by comparison.

...people with no sense of history throw out things and ones who collect them are the ones who have one. This rule applies to all cultures anywhere in the world at all times. Why else then would we have museums??

By the way : has the RBSI changed the mechanism by which one leaves a comment since my last visit to the site ? I much prefered the older method, whereby one comment followed another in simple chronological order... This new mode of ' reply' seems to be unnecessarily confusing !


This new change brought about by FB has ruined the fun of a discussion. I am unable to understand the reason for a certain comment to be posted above the other and for all the replies to be hidden unless clicked upon. In one word...this is a 'mess'.

Yes - a 'mess' indeed - and one that certainly does not improve the ' service' for the user... ' Change for the sake of change ' is often needlessly damaging...

Thanks to Shashi Kolar for his useful suggestion. We have disabled the settings for 'replies' and we are back to the earlier format of comments display.

Sure, the Daniell works form an excellent record of this era but they're certainly not the best artists to cover the subject, nor the best of their era. From a historical record perspective, its irritating to see their inconsistent & hidden use of camera-obscura. Martinelli brings this to light. One can understand why folks sitting in a distant land who'd never seen the site/ monument couldn't tell the difference but to buy such incorrect lithographs at high prices, oblivious of the error & the technique, is just stupidity. Do note that off the 160 odd lithos. of Daniells, just about 25, have a commercial value in Indian markets currently - the Delhi / Calcutta/ Big Cities. People are not buying them for their artistic value. Some of the best Daniell work is actually of the lesser known places. History is based on facts. And while the information of which Daniell picture is distorted & which is not, is in the public domain, folks continue to spend high on the faulty pix. Its like buying books on the Aryan invasion theory when you know that the hypothesis was incorrect. This is an immature buyers market. Lets not hide behind choices/art/aesthetic generalizations. Colonial hangover in art/aesthetics it sure is. Check out the victorian era marble-laden lobbies & ornate columns in the new residential buildings being made in Gurgaon, Bangalore etc. This is a legacy which Art historians like EB Havell & Aabindranath Tagore/Santiniketan school warned us about & tried to correct. Dont get sold on "brand Daniell" - value their good work & be critical of their forgery ( in the name of art) i.e. their camera-obscura work ...

I see your point now Ratnesh Mathur! But in my opinion...regardless of camera-obscura or the inaccuracies in their paintings...they were still one of the best of British artists in India! Over-rated maybe...but still great!

Of course. I've paid a lot of money to buy their first edition complete works, for a museum project. Its a rare & detailed pictorial record made with lots of effort & innovation.By the way, I was at Delhi's Hauz Khas village art gallery today. They're selling 20 pages of Hodges, each at Rs 50,000 ; Grindlay's 39 pages at approx Rs 1.5 lacs each & a few small-folio Daniells at Rs 1-5 to 2 lacs, each. A few laminated reprints ( A4 size) at Rs 650 each. The pricing varied based on the quality of the paper & the brand, as the sales lady told me. The subject didn't matter, as long it was "Daniells" or "Grindlays". Both top "Hodges" brand.

I seek to reconfigure the the picture afforded of the Daniells by the comments in this thread. I'm unsure of the parameters within which the works of the Daniells have been judged, but if one considers similar motives among artists extant in India either immediately before, during of after their tours in India, the fact cannot be escaped that their renditions provide the most faithful representations of the sights depicted. The only landscape painter of note to have gained "imperial" patronage in India prior to their departure was William Hodges, who's work in the land were well received. Most other practicing artists in the subcontinent involved themselves in portraiture, either for wealthy EIC servants, native rulers and merchants or to augment "European upholstery" in newly built public buildings or places of worship. Moreover, Hodges expeditions around India were buffeted by political events or ill health, something the Daniells knew they would have to face, embarking within a year of Hodges arrival back in England. There was also the not inconsiderable matter of artistic taste that Hodges appealed to, that of the transporting nature of the Sublime in exotic lands, which was at variance with the Picturesque school of the Romantic movement in landscape painting that the Daniells espoused. The latter required them to be less dramatic, but more authentic in their portrayal. While such a movement had gained currency in Britain to depict the garden prospects of the aristocrats and the landed gentry along with natural landscapes that the country afforded, it was unclear if the same enthusiasm would be extended to architectural landscapes of an as yet unfamiliar Orient (though the Nabobs could be counted upon to seed such interest in the market). Their use the the Camera Obscura and the perambulator to aid in faithful capture of perspectives, architectural outlines and decorative details weren't done in secret (unlike many other European artists of the preceding centuries; for example, Van Eyck is rumored to have used the Camera Obscura for his famous "The Arnolfini Marriage" without documenting so). William Daniell freely records such use by himself and his uncle in his diaries. The resultant engravings based on these sketches - very much at variance with the freehand techniques of Hodges - "would be praised, correctly, for their undeniable and authoritative accuracy over and above any artistic merit or vision." (page 191, "Indian Renaissance: British Romantic Art And the Prospect of India"). The praise for such accuracy flowed from professional cartographers, surveyors, magazines and even artists like Hodges and James Forbes who had labored in India previously. Thus, they clearly did not intend to be demonstrative of superior artistic talents at the cost of authoritative reproductions. They, of course, weren't company artists, cartographers or demographers but painters aiming at the non-specialist market, and thus did take liberty in their final compositions around the framework derived from scientific methods. It should come as no surprise then that James Fergusson, who's concern with architectural details surpassed that of the Daniells, lamented about the lack of details in their works, and set about with the Camera Lucida to gather even better versions of monuments. Mr. Mathur does point to the general spirit of Havell's remarks about the pretentiousness of contemporary European and native collectors of art, but as remarked in the chapter titled "The Degradation of Indian Art" in "Indian Sculpture and Painting", Havell derides the hankering after "bad copies or counterfeits" of Western art against an enlightened understanding of native art and iconography. As opposed to Abanindranath Tagore, also discussed in that book, the Daniells weren't interpreting India through a spiritual or religious prism, but doing so as how a landscape painter is trained to process his or her subject, something that cannot be said to the quasi-European works of Ravi Varma that both Havell and Coomarasway dismiss. Therefore, the popularity of the the Daniells, aided by imperial projects, the wealth of the EIC servants and their own industry is justified. Under what parameters are they judged as being "the best" or "average" depends on what is being judged - artistic prowess, accuracy or adherence to a particular school, but as far as architectural landscapes of India are concerned, there cannot be too many equals.

A superb perspective Shashi Kolar! Thank you!

Noted, Shashi. Erudite comment.Pardon my scribbles. I guess you're saying that you really really like the Daniells. Hey, thats cool. On the subject of Art, the Purpose of Art ( especially your use of the term " religious art") & parameters of judging art, this article in today's Guardian by a philosopher-friend, Alain de Botton ( ) , may interest you. Of course, when it comes to judging art & the purpose of art, that 9 rasas by painters, which evoke the 9 corresponding bhavas, which relate to 9 colours of 9 chakras - that art theory lesson in the dialogue between Vajra & Markandeya, documented in 7th century manuscript, Vishnudharmottara ( vishnu purana part three) - doesn't that answer every aspect of painting ? Do a dekho, if you haven't already - ( )