By Divia Patel and Graham Parlett
- Drawing Space: Contemporary Indian Drawings
The expansion of Company rule in the eighteenth century was paralleled by the need for a greater knowledge and understanding of India, and large amounts of data were collected, categorised and rationalised to facilitate this process. The appropriation of such knowledge took many forms, from the translation of texts in the multifarious Indian languages, to a study of Hindu law and religion, through to extensive surveys of the people of India, the land, agriculture, geography, archaeology and architecture. This body of knowledge also included visual representations and it was here that Company paintings played an important role.
The commissioning of paintings in this style was a result of the perceived lack of Western ideals in traditional Indian painting. Indian miniatures, while intricately detailed and colourful, were primarily illustrations of courtly life and of myths and legends. What the newly arrived British middle-classes wanted were records of their own lives in India along with those of the people, places and events that surrounded them. They also wanted paintings depicted in a manner that they could appreciate. For many of them, trained in the art of watercolour, miniature painting lacked the qualities they admired and valued, such as realism, a Western-style perspective, a sense of proportion and the use of light and shade.
For their part, Indian artists welcomed British patronage at a time when they were losing their traditional sources of income as a result of both the decline of the Mughal court and the changing tastes of Indian patrons in favour of work by visiting European artists. Although the French also encouraged Company artists in the Punjab and in settlements like Pondicherry, it was the British, the dominant colonial power, who provided the largest market and many artists migrated to areas with a large British population in search of work. Company painting thus developed across the whole of India, from Madurai in the south to Calcutta in the east and Delhi in the north, and even on a smaller scale in neighbouring countries, such as British-controlled Burma, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
After 1825 the demand for these paintings was such that many of them were reduced to stock images and were virtually mass-produced. There were exceptions, however, and talented artists continued to paint in a variety of individual styles. We know the names of a number of the more distinguished artists and their patrons. SHAIKH MUHAMMAD AMIR of Calcutta, for example, specialised in depicting the houses and staff of British residents in a particularly Europeanised style, while SHIVA LAL and Shiva Dayal Lal, who ran flourishing shops selling their work, were prominent representatives of the Patna School of Company painting. Eminent patrons included the Chief Justice of Bengal, Sir Elijah Impey, and his wife, who were especially interested in natural history.
Watercolour painting on paper of a Muslim wedding procession. The bridegroom is shown riding a horse in the centre of the procession with his face covered. He is accompanied by musicians and attendants who carry decorations, flags and flowers. At the front of the procession is a caparisoned elephant with large red and green flags held on its back. At the rear of the procession is a cover palanquin carried by four bearers.
Painted by: Shiva Lal
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