Of the manifold impact of the West on non-Western cultures, none is so intriguing and yet unexplored as their responses to European naturalist art.
In art, where judgments of value are not so absolute, the consequences of westernization were more elusive and problematic. It is this aspect of westernization with its implications for national identity that lies at the heart of my enquiry,the proliferation of cultural borrowings made possible by the dramatic expansion of the means of communication. Print technology and museums gave the modern urban world, in the metropolis and in its peripheries, an unprecedented access to cultures separated by time and space. In an instant, artists became armchair travelers.
Initially, European artists had access to an enormous range of styles from their own past which made possible the rise of ‘historicism’; later the net was cast in the 'foreign waters' of the non-western world, especially primitive societies, in order to haul-in a rich 'catch'. The artist as 'archaeologist ' had his impact not only in the West but wherever European institutions were implanted. The voracious appetite for past style, and for styles of other cultures in the present by modernists was attended by an inevitable disregard of the cultural backgrounds of their sources. The most obvious European case is the use of primitive art by, Cubists and Expressionists.
But in some ways a more profound effect of the non-western world was in non-figurative artists. In his essay, On the Spiritual in Art, Kandinsky made a intriguing connection: ‘the “crudely" sculptured columns of an Indian temple are informed with the same spirit as most living modern work'.
Indian religious thought, filtered through the Theosophical writings of Helena Blavatsky, Rudolf SteinandAnnie Besant, inspired Kandinsky's images of color music.
'The yogic system, expounded in Swami Vivekananda's Chicago lectures, played a part in the art of Malevich and his circle. In this fascinating world upside-down, the Indian painters turned to the West while the European avant-garde headed East for inspiration. File:Lacan.pdf
Why is it that the actual transformation of Western sources by colonial artists have not aroused much interest until now?
The inability to see influence in terms other than plagiarism stems from the fact that colonial (and Post-colonial) art criticism is unable to detach itself from the values of imperialism, anchored in power relations. As such, it remains a prisoner of its own reductionism.
The impact of European naturalism on Indian artists, for instance, is viewed simply as a superior culture dominating an inferior, passive one For example, Edward Said, in his classic study, Orientalism, chooses Marx's famous statement- the Orientals cannot represent themselves; they must be represented -"
The general answers advanced with regard to the westernization of Asia still do not resolve an art historical puzzle: why did academic naturalism oust earlier Indian art in the colonial period with such ease?
Colonial policy only tells part of the story; part of the answer also lies in the revolutionary impact of Renaissance art in India as elsewhere.
In eighteenth century Japan for instance, artists were dazzled by western Illusionism, 'the technological aspect of art' - how to render an object convincingly. We find Mughal artists in India eagerly emulating western perspective, anatomy and chiaroscuro.
Indeed, the acceptance of technological superiority in art can sometimes take place independently of political domination. It may simply follow ¬the demands of patrons such as the emperor Akbar who was intrigued by Mannerist art.
At the same time, colonial rule added a special edge to the introduction of naturalism in India, and subsequent reactions against it.
The limitations of concentrating solely on western influence, whether viewed as a civilizing or a destructive force, lie in relegating the artist to a passive role. It simply fails to take into account the complex and discriminating relationship between an artist and his intellectual source
I think the time has come to focus on the relations between western art as a specific source in the colonial era, and its cultural transformations by Indian artists - while accepting that the options before the Indian artist existed within the confines of colonial hegemony.
The world of the colonial artists receives no less attention here than its art, as colonial ideologies and institutions are interwoven with stories of alliances and intrigues, of individual triumphs and personal tragedy
'the artists' status in the pre-British period was, as in pre¬Renaissance Europe, humble and traditionally defined, irrespective of the caste they belonged to; some were even Brahmins For the first time we know the names of artists, although 'individual styles, the hallmark of individualism, are difficult to separate in Mughal collaborative paintings. Above all, the artistic themes and the flavor of a reign revolved around the emperor's personality rather than the artists.
There is, however, a fascinating case of a highly developed artistic individualism. Abu'l-Fazl, the emperor Akbar, has left us a dazzling account of the painter Daswanth whose dazzling talent and tragic life made him a legendary figure in his own time. The son of a humble palanquin bearer, his compulsive drawing habit attracted Akbar’s attention, who arranged for his training. Dashwanth soon reached the peak of his profession and was regarded as the foremost Mughal painter. Suffering from depression, he took his own life at an ear1y age. What little evidence there is on this gifted artist suggests that he displayed signs of melancholia, an affliction associated with artistic genius in the West, the epitome of modern individualism. How can we explain this 'genius' in a period when the topos itself did not seem to exist in India?
Unfortunately, we do not know enough about Daswanth to draw any firm conclusion except that he is an enigma. So even at the Mughal court, the artists as a class did not enjoy an elevated position; only individual painters were ennobled as a personal favor of the emperor. The emperor Jahangir in particular conferred highest honors on the artists he most admired. All the same, however prized these artists were, as part of the imperial entourage they had no independent existence.
by the gradual disintegration of taste that attended the end of the Mughal empire in the eighteenth century, as the certainties of a confident society dissolved, certain developments softened the ground for the reception of European art painters were incorporating elements from Mannerist art in their work in a playful disregard of Christian iconography, of whose meaning they were in any case ignorant.Unlike the Mughals, for whom European art was primarily exotica and marginal to their concerns,
The introduction of Renaissance artistic equipage - fore¬shortening, linear perspective, chiaroscuro and other naturalist devices ¬- was helped by other elements - the romantic image of the artist and the sentimental subject-matter of Victorian painting – What emerges is the full range of European institutions that profoundly altered the meaning and function of art in Indian society; we see elite artists as enterprising individuals replacing traditional artisans, art societies taking over the functions of aristocratic patrons, and art schools as agents of the Raj, seeking to inculcate 'good taste' in its subjects. . "The first of these sea changes related to the status of the artist and his self-'perception as a unique individual, who was no longer prepared to be bound by social conventions, but followed his own destiny in the relentless pursuit of an artistic ideal.
A gulf separates the low 'craftsman' artist of the pre-colonial period and his colonial successors.
The first self-conscious artists belong to the British period, the celebrated example being Ravi Varma, the first gentleman painter. His own social standing helped to elevate the colonial artist, much like artists of the Renaissance who claimed a higher status in keeping with their self-image as intellectuals rather than craftsmen.
What we are witnessing here is a new phenomenon in India, a process which Europe had already passed through: the emancipation of artists from traditional aristocratic patronage who were now sustained by public opinion in the form of art exhibitions and art journalism.
In the case of India, an additional factor was that virtually all colonial artists came from the western educated strata. The fortunes and inspirations of these groups were intimately tied to English literacy; they chose the calling of a teacher, a lawyer, a 'writer' in the Raj bureaucracy, or of an academic artist.
The collapse of traditional art
Some half a century before the rise of colonial artists, the fortunes of craftsmen-painters had begun to sink, though some of them survived till the end of the nineteenth century.
Once they lost courtly patronage with the decline of princely rulers, their days were numbered. Some sold debased bazaar paintings.
Others warded off starvation by migrating to remote princely courts, away from the theatre of civil wars on the northern plains.
After the East India Company gained a foothold in Bengal in 1757, its patronage temporarily halted their inexorable decline.
The Company painters received instruction in European drawing Consistent shading and single-point perspective were expected to eliminate their 'draw¬backs’.
Painters from Patna and Murshidabad, who flocked to Calcutta in search of work, turned out watercolors in the English manner. The Iron Duke’s impetuous brother, the Marquess of Wellesley, Governor General of India- and the vainqueur of Tipu Sultan, acquire twenty-seven folios of natural history watercolors.
The East India Company itself employed artists for documentation purposes, essential for the effective control of the new territory. The Company artists did topographical, architectural, archaeological and natural history drawings but their best known, works are the ethnographic sets of Indian castes and professions prized by the English picturesque 'hunters'. Less direct but no less profound was the impact of the Company Raj on other artists.
Although Calcutta contained a thriving mixed population since its inception in 1690, the city's new status as the capital in 1757 gave rise to the 'Indo-English' art of Kalighat.
The patuas (traditional scroll painters) from the adjacent villages, who had no immediate commerce with the rulers, migrated to Kalighat, a thriving pilgrim center on the outskirts of Calcutta.
An ample supply of cheap, locally manufactured paper facilitated a rapid turnout of pictures, while pictorial experience was gained from readily available English prints. The artists developed a cursive pictorial language by wielding ink with a flexible brush; their shorthand style has appealed to Leger and Matisse in our century. The strength of Kalighat lay in its own peculiar adaptations of Renaissance chiaroscuro and perspective. Later, as the trade expanded, the master¬ craftsman would provide the model which would then be duplicated and colored in by members of his family. It is not hard to see why religious pictures were the initial staple of the pilgrim center of Kalighat. Traditionally, pats (scrolls) were unrolled before an audience, as sacred stories would be narrated to the accompani¬ment of songs.
The needs of an expanding secular clientele in Calcutta encouraged these artists to discard the ritual function of the pats. They invented a genre of social comment choosing as their victims the nouveaux anglicized babus and their new-fangled lifestyle. The Bengali satirists, conservative like their counterparts elsewhere, greeted the breakdown of traditional order with sardonic apprehension.
Sensational events such as a Bengali lady going up in a balloon and the Tarakeswar murder trial, a celebrated crime passionnel, did not escape their scrutiny.
the age of mechanical reproduction The advent of mass prints eventually threatened the livelihood of Kalighat artists.
A few took refuge in lithography. Kalighat paintings were even sent to Germany to be printed; they can I be recognized by the patterned wallpapers and carpets as backgrounds.
Thus the art that endured was not Kalighat but popular prints in this 'age of mechanical reproduction', to borrow Walter Benjamin's vivid phrase.
Opportunities thrown up by an expanding urban economy and the new printing processes were seized by those flexible enough to adapt their skills to these changes. The printmakers went through a rapid succession of mediums: wood engraving; lithogra¬phy, oleography.
They thrived as purveyors of inexpensive pictures for the ordinary people who were thus inducted into the pleasures of naturalism.
Realistic prints of deities now replaced earlier sacred images.
The first illustrated book in Bengali, the narrative poem Oonoodah Mongul, came out in 1816. By 1859, the Bat-tala region was taken over by publishers and turned into a 'Grub Street' of Calcutta. Forty-six presses were in operation, producing over three hundred titles, a sign of growing literacy in Bengal.
The 'penny dreadfuls' of Bat-tala, which became synonymous with coarse satire and prurience, mark the rise of an urban subculture that preferred the argot to the refined tongue.
In this the Bengali 'chapbooks' were as close to Kalighat pictures as to the popular theatre, the bhans.
The engraver of Bat-tala succeeded in wresting the market in religious pictures' from Kalighat. But they could not shake off its sacred iconography which still led the field.
By the nineteenth century, cheap prints were freely available in most other regions of India as well. Finally, photography outstripped all other forms of mechanical reproduction in popularity.
The camera, which was a logical solution to the problems of mimesis,
it had opened up a whole new world to western academic painters. But essentially, they parted company with photographic realism, leaving that aspect of representation to photographers.
India was strikingly different from Europe in this. No such naturalist convention existed on the subcontinent.
Indians discovered photography in the 18405 soon after they took to naturalist art.
Whereas in the West, photography took away the livelihood of painters, the very opposite happened in India. It was oil portraitists who posed a threat to photographers in the last century.
The rise of oil painting It was not just oil portraits, but oil painting itself, that was the most important contribution of western art to colonial India.
Taught at art schools, it transformed Indian art in terms of scale, style and subject matter. Its appeal was more limited than that of popular prints since it could only be afforded by the affluent.
Oil portraiture as a lucrative profession emerged in the late eighteenth century, long before the advent of art schools, That was when Indian taste for naturalism was being molded, as increasingly European artists usurped the position hitherto enjoyed by Mughal and Rajput painters.
Hearing of the Company's military successes, English artists turned to India to seek their fortunes there. At this time in England, the average artist fared poorly in competition with Italian artists. From painting portraits of the Company officials the visiting artists made their way into the princely courts.
Initially, oils might not have appealed to the Indian rulers, nurtured as they were on Mughal and Rajput miniatures
But it made sense to decorate rooms with European art to impress the overlords that had succeeded the 'Grand Mogul'. Shuja-ud Daulah of Oudh preferred Indian miniatures to European art; but as a dependent ally of the British he surrounded himself not only with European advisers but with European objects as well. He sent for Tilly Kettle in 1771, who was followed by Qzias Humphrey, John Zoffany, Charles Smith and Francesco Rinaldi. Kettle and George Wi1lison found employment with the 'Nawab of Arcot, another British dependent.
The steady stream of European painters was reduced to a trickle in Theodore Jensen's time, the last of the itinerant artists, if we leave out Valentine Prinsep, the official painter of the Durbar in 1877. Of Danish origin, Jensen was an exception rather than the rule in the mid-nineteenth century.
He was-soon replaced by Ravi Varma.
The fashion for oil portraits spread from the landed nobility to the rising elite of Calcutta and Bombay.
Initially, the nobility refused to have their likenesses taken for fear of 'a premature death'.
But soon, not only the leading Parsis of Bombay and the abhijat (aristocratic) bhadralok of Calcutta who also employed European artists, the affluent in general became the economic mainstay of Indian oil painters.
The pre-art-school oil painters have not received the scholarly attention that is usually lavished on Company painters. Therefore, when one speaks of oil painters in, India before the 1860s, one usually means the visiting Europeans. From this, a time lag of several decades between the end of the Company style and the rise of the art-school-trained oil painters is assumed. Surprisingly, in the intervening period, a mixed style of oil painting flourished all over India that bridged the seeming gap between Company watercolors and later academic oils.
As noted by Mildred Archer, the process began much earlier:
Artists in Oudh and later in Murshidabad quickly took the opportunity of copying the work of visiting British artists.
In the process they "absorbed western conventions of perspective and naturalistic shading and of figures seen frontally and in relaxed poses.
Some of the artists even went so far as to paint in oils, copying European pictures which had reached the collections of local Indian princes.
The trend set by these painters was taken up by others in the course of the nineteenth century, creating a distinct style of indigenous oil painting.
Initially the competition from visiting Europeans, whose portraits had already filled the princely courts, seemed insuperable. But Indian artists in many parts of India, including the remarkable Hansaji Raghunath in Baroda and Ramaswamy Naidu in Travancore, soon carved a niche for themselves with an 'adapted' western mode. When art exhibitions became the vogue they took part in them, though these shows mainly benefited the art-school-trained painters of a later generation.
And yet it is often from exhibition notices that we know of the existence 'of early painters such as Gangadhar Dey, whose works are otherwise difficult to trace. Dey was a pupil of an Irish painter, Thomas Roods, but he also worked with the German Sunkel and the Italian Geonelli, before starting on his own as a portraitist and restorer.
These 'traditional' oil paintings were not noticed until recently because their relatively flat colors and frequent reversions to conventional iconography linked them more directly to indigenous watercolors than to European academic art.
In the late eighteenth century, the Company watercolorists had created a hard-edged shaded style, com¬bining single point perspective with the clean lines of the Daniells; the Madras and Tanjore painters quickly switched to the Company idiom, and then moved on to oils. A notable exponent of the Tanjore style was Alagiri Naidu, a Travancore court artist The somber works of his successor, Ramaswamy Naidu, which are simply the oil versions of Tanjore paintings, clearly fall into this category. Similar 'translations' of traditional paintings into oils are found in. Mysore.
In Bengal the oil painters, like their Kalighat counterparts, used a linear style with light shading to give contour to the figures on occasions they directly transferred Kalighat and other water-based paintings to oils. Indeed, Kalighat, Chitpur lithographers and oil painters shared a common iconography.
A taste for European lifestyle
More than painting or sculpture, architecture was the fulcrum of the colonial regime.
Even today, the visible symbols of former British glory are the Neoclassical mansions dotted all over the subcontinent.
Mir Jafar, made the puppet governor of Bengal in 1757, gave concrete proof of his appreciation by ordering from the European architects plans for his own residence at Murshidabad.
Completed in the 1830s on the model of the Government House in Calcutta, this grand palace on the river Ganges came to be known as the 'House of a Thousand Doors'
It was followed within two decades by grand Indo-Saracenic edifices of the maharajas, many of them planned and built by East India Company engineers.
These capacious palaces could at last house vast collections of European art, mostly nineteenth century originals but also copies of old masters.
The leading princes, whose social precedence was fixed by the Raj, with the number of ‘gun salutes’, embarked on lavish expenditure on European art
Baroda had the finest collection.
In the 1890s, the highly cultivated prince, Sayaji Rao III Gaekwad (reigned 1875-1939), engaged the Venetian artist A. Felici, to adorn the massive Laxmi Vilas Palace with oils, bronzes and marbles. He continued to add to his collection during his European travels.
In 1910 he relied on the expertise of Marion Spielmann, the, editor of The Connoisseur, to form an impressive collection of western art.
Responding to the call of nationalism, Baroda, like Mysore, was also to acquire works of modern Indian painters.
The collecting mania of the princes is brought to life by a very late and unexpected example from rural Maharashtra. Sri Bhavani Museum,built virtual1y in the middle of nowhere, was the brainchild of the ruler of Aundh, an amateur artist. Designed by an Italian architect in 1938 as a spacious villa,the museum perches on top of a steep hill, dominating the surrounding countryside.
The galleries which allowed natural light through large glass-covered ceilings were ahead of their time.
They contain a rich assortment of European antiques in copies, sculptures, paintings of old masters and a very substantial collection of contempor¬ary Indian art. Founded to improve the taste of Bala Saheb's subjects, such a large museum of European art at the height of the nationalist movement seemed to be delightfully oblivious to the writing on the wall.
As early as the late eighteenth century, the westernized lesser nobility decided not to lag behind in prodigal spending. Among minor aristo¬crats, the collection of Salar Jung, a leading figure at the court of the Nizam of Hyderabad, has acquired a unique reputation for its bizarre quality.
At the lower end of the social scale were the mansions of the merchant princes and zamindars who had made their fortunes under the East India Company.
As with the Nawabs, they may have originally collected for social acceptance by the English. But slowly these objects transformed their taste.
The Tagores of Calcutta, the family of the great poet Rabindranath, were avid collectors.
Perhaps no building conveys more vividly the extravagant lifestyle of the aristocratic bhadralok (gentleman in Bengali, the western-educated elite of Bengal) than the Marble Palace, the grand Palladian villa in Calcutta. Founded by a merchant prince, Rajendro Malik, in 1835, it houses a mélange of European and Far Eastern art objects: copies of ancient Greek sculptures and works of Houdon, Canova and Thorvaldsen; an assortment of academic painters and copies of old masters; Tang, Han and Ming vases; Chippendale mirrors.
While Maharajas, Nawabs and leading families built galleries to indulge their taste in European art, the, average English-educated hung prints in their living rooms. Even the poor had their cheap Kalighat paintings to decorate their walls. In this period, the fashion in hanging pictures originated in princely courts. The Mughals did not put up miniatures on their walls but kept them in beautiful albums, while wall paintings were confined to public buildings. The only room decoration that one notices in paintings from the period are glass bottles placed in alcoves in the walls.
stays in colonial cities could not but transform the taste of the elite. This brief overview of the changing artistic priorities in early colonial India is a backdrop to the 1850s, the period when public taste began to be molded in a program¬matic manner by the Raj. If the initial taste for European art among affluent Indians was more a matter of convenience, by the time art schools were founded that taste had turned thoroughly western and solidly Victorian. The paintings which contemporary novelists and critics describe in loving detail could only have been realized with the powers of Renaissance naturalism.
ART EDUCATION AND RAJ PATRONAGE (1850-1900) Education Despatch of the East India Company, 19 July 1854 None can have a stronger claim on our attention than Education. It is one of our sacred duties to be the means of conferring upon the natives of India those vast moral and material blessings which flow from the general diffusion of useful knowledge, and which India may, under Providence, derive from her connection with England.
Unlike the leisurely pace of earlier westernisation, in the 1850s, the introduction 'of academic art, as part of an ambitious plan to convert the intelligentsia, was written into the imperial policy.
'The Age of Opti¬mism', the title of this section, evokes both this confidence about altering Indian sensibility and the enthusiastic reception of naturalist art among the western-educated. That optimism mirrors the age in which progress had become an emblem of British hegemony. Of the manifold channels of westernisation, art schools, indirectly controlled by departments of public instruction, emerged as uniquely powerful institutions. The reasons behind this self-assurance are not far to seek. The art schools appeared at a time when the Raj was moving towards a modern form of benevolent despotism. In 1877 the process culminated in the consecration of Victoria as the Empress of India. Although confident westernisation had received a setback during the Uprising of 1857, the Raj continued to feel a moral obligation to bring the blessings of European progress to the colonies. This urge led to its intervention in art, assuming the task of guiding 'native' taste. Its anxiety reflected the Victorian faith in the ability of the state to inculcate good taste through legislation. When the East India Company announced on 19 July 1854 that art school would confer the material and moral benefits of practical know\edge on Indian subjects, it was echoing another Victorian obsess¬ion. ‘Useful’ knowledge was held to improve the less fortunate members of the human race, both within Britain and without. In 1861, in 'Essays on Education', Herbert Spence was to declare that the highest art was based on science. An unprecedented material prosperity that had attended the Industrial Revolution, the upsurge of evangelism at home and spectacular British military successes abroad - all converged in a paternalism towards British workers as well as subject nations, already foreshadowed in Lard Brougham's Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. Whether to improve English artisans or Indian subjects, the motives behind art education were strikingly similar. But strange to say, the progress of art schools in India as instruments of change owed less to any clear-cut objectives than to clashing ideologies that periodically 'threatened the very existence .of these schools. Part of the problem was that the government failed to recognize the profound shifts in the class composition of artists in India; the new "western-educated, ‘gentlemen artists’ spelt the end of artisans. These changes were not all social; art schools changed the whole concept of art in India. English art teaching differed radically from traditional Indian apprenticeship. Not only was an art school’s approach more formal than the relationship between the master and his apprentice, there were also striking differences between European and Indian artistic processes. These are best described as the distinction between a conceptual mode of art, followed by Indian artists since antiquity, and the western perceptual one, which constantly corrects the initial formula by means of observation. Traditional Indian painting, far instance, takes as its starting point an outline drawing or a stencil, which is then colored in without any significant modification. Western painting or drawing, on the other hand, attempts to build up a three-dimensional version of the subject by constantly modifying the initial schema. One cannot overemphasize the transformation of artistic thinking in India which this new, tentative approach brought about.
ART SCHOOLS IN COLONIAL CITIES
The first 'western' art school was founded by the British Resident, Sir Charles Malet, in the Peshwa's domain at Pune (Poona) in c. -1798, to enable local painters to assist visiting British artists. Run by James Wales (1747-95), the school closed after his sudden death. His pupil Gangaram Tambat's sketches embellished Malet's archaeological works an Ellora. In the 1830s the idea of a mechanics' institute was floated by Englishmen in Calcutta, who had noticed its rise in Britain. Possibly the earliest institution of this kind was the Calcutta Lyceum, which sought to encourage arts and sciences among the Bengalis with lectures, exhibitions, and an art school. In the nineteenth century, such ideas cropped up regularly. The first proper art school was the Calcutta Mechanics' Institution and School of Arts, founded by Frederick Corbyn after a public meeting on 26 February 1839. Having benefited from Indian resources, the British felt duty-bound to introduce the arts of civilized life to the land. The school, expected to safeguard the morals of the youth and foster ‘manliness’ in them, modeled itself on the British institutions that sought 'to wean [artisans) from improper habits, to make them moral and open doors of knowledge’. In India, the need was all the greater, he thought, because of the students' aversion to manual work; a scientific study of art would also instill reasoning habits in them. In Madras, the first art school opened in 1850. Dr Alexander Hunter, the resident surgeon, ran it at his own expense, with the object of improving native taste through 'the humanising culture of the fine arts’. The following year, he opened a school of industry to produce better domestic articles, 'largely made in this country, but rudely and uncouthly. Hunter's two schools, which combined profit with 'beauty',' soon came together. A grant-in-aid was offered in 1852 for purchasing casts, models, and ‘studies’, so optimistic did the government feel about its commercial prospects. The art school in Bombay was the gift of Jamsethji Jijibhai, a Parsi industrialist. On the selection committee for the Great Exhibition of 1851, the success of Indian art wares in London led Jijibhai to offer funds for an art school. He was also persuaded by the local press, which urged him to give a lead in the improvement of Indian taste. Although Jijibhai included painting among the subjects, he envisaged an institution 'for the improvement of arts and manufactures [and] the habits of industry of the middle and lower classes'. The Great Exhibition had demonstrated Indian ingenuity, albeit often erroneously directed. Under proper guidance, 'the people of India would acquire a degree of proficiency in painting and culture which would lead to an extended taste for such objects ... [and] would enable India once more to take up an advanced position among manufacturing countries of the word. The cautious East India Com¬pany took up the offer after consulting Hunter, by now the accepted pioneer in the field. The School opened in 1856 and drawing lessons were started the year after. In Calcutta, following the short-lived art school of 1839, a permanent one was founded in 1854 by the Society for the Promotion of Industrial Art. It was solemnly announced that the school was 'to develop inventiveness and originality, to supply skilled draughtsman, designers [and] engravers, to meet increasing demand, to provide employment, to promote taste and refinement in the application of Art, among the upper classes [and] to supply the community with works of art at a moderate price. The school took in ninety-five students with funds from the wealthy residents of the city. In February 1855 it held an exhibition of student works, the first public show of its kind in India. These efforts at improving 'native' taste went together with introducing western tech¬niques.
THE GREAT EXHIBITION OF 1851 AND INDIAN ARTISANS
These schools were privately founded, but they did not long remain in individual hands. The departments of public instruction, set up in the three presidencies in 1855, took control of the Calcutta art school in 1858 and Bombay in 1864. Madras had enjoyed a government subsidy since 1852. After the assumption of government (control, these schools became a vehicle for disseminating European taste, as part of the grand design of bringing progress to the colonies. Nor did the East India Company forget that the scientific scrutiny of nature was a sacred act. In this period, the connection between science and morality was uppermost in the minds of educationists’, as seen in the statement of Dr F. De Fabeck, Principal of the Jaipur art school:
By combining scientific and intellectual progress with proficiency in manual skill [the art schools] are much more calculated . . . to raise the social and moral conditions of the natives of this country than institutions which only regard intellectual acquirements and refinement, where much of the intellectual element is supplied by the governing race, and so much of the laboring element [is] needed from the dependent one, it surely seems desirable to secure . . . every means that may give to the latter all the normal proficiency of which they arc capable.
No one was more eager to put these ideas into practice than the high official Sir Richard Temple. An amateur painter, he emerged as a leading figure in Indian art education, who took a personal pleasure in its advances. While Indian design was 'not scientifically directed, [it] is yet in genius, in perception, and in sentiment, peculiarly their own . . . The exceeding merit is due to heredity among the most beautiful possessions of the human race'. While he yielded to no one in his admiration for the Indian 'imitative' faculty, he was confident that the Bombay art school could
Teach them one thing, which is through all the preceding ages they have never learnt, namely drawing objects correctly, whether figures, landscape or architecture. Such drawing tends to rectify some of their mental faults, to intensify their powers of observation, and to make them understand analytically those glories of nature which they love so well
It is no coincidence that Temple mentioned in the same breath that the role of moral training in native education, a statement that linked nature, science and morality, that heady mixture of progress and evangelism, described for the colonies. Temple's confidence in the moral lessons of art reflects a sentiment expressed pithily by Ruskin: ‘[the Indian] will not draw a form of nature, but an amalgamation of monstrous objects’; and pronounced tersely by Sir George Birdwood: ‘painting and sculpture as fine arts did not exist in India’.
But the British themselves were divided over art teaching; it was either the ‘fine arts’ as imparted by the Royal Academy or the ‘applied’ arts as taught at the Department of Science and Art at South Kensington. When the Raj sought advice on art schools, its choice was dictated by developments in Britain. A crisis in art education had followed in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. The whole system of teaching was in turmoil, with a rift emerging between literate artists reared in academies and the growing army of 'confused' craftsmen. In response to the perceived decline in industrial arts, mechanics' institutes were founded to impart 'useful knowledge' to artisans. Even the Royal Academy, that august arbiter of national taste, arranged art lectures for artisans, so serious did it consider the situation. Schools of design were set up following the Select Committee recommendations of 1835. The problem seemed most acute during the ' Great Exhibition of 1851. While the marvels of science won public admiration, a dissenting band of critics denounced the prevailing industrial design as devoid of taste and coherence. These distant rumbles were heard in the choice of art schools for India.. To the Victorians the crisis of taste was clear from the proliferation of 'Illusionist’ design. Henry Cole and 'the new reformers who detested it, praised Indian art wares at the Great Exhibition, which 'correctly' applied flat, abstract decoration. The Central School of Industrial Art at South Kensington, founded in 1857, sought to impart the knowledge of 'correct' design by eliminating illusionist motifs altogether. For Cole, who directed the school, the Indian decorative arts were his ideal. For advice the Indian government turned to this institution as it faced the problem of preserving Indian handicrafts. From the 1850S, Henry Cole, Owen Jones, William Morris, George Birdwood, each one in his own way a defender of Indian manufactures, accused the Raj of presiding over their destruction. The reasons for the decline, not just of the applied arts of India, but of all non-industrial communities, were complex and embedded within the history of modern industrialism. The seriousness of the crisis was recognised by critics. The causes, however, were ill ¬understood at the time and the debate surrounding it is not settled even today. Mass-produced goods such as Manchester textiles, destined for the Indian market, dealt a mortal blow to the aesthetically refined but uncompetitive products of India. The economic decline faced by Indian artisans was irrevocable since it was bound up with the whole economic fabric of the empire. So the question of reversing the process did not arise,. All that could be done was to stem the rate of decline. It is not certain how clearly the government saw the artisan crisis as economic rather than technological. Trevelyan's submission to the House of Lords on 21 June 1853 does acknowledge some government responsi¬bility. All the same, when the Raj was stung into action by the criticisms of the anti-illusionist designers, it chose to 'plug the leak' by art education. The official policy, enshrined in the Trevelyan report, decided to offer the blessings of practical art to the 'backward' artisans of India. It drew an analogy between the decline of artisans in Britain and India. In Britain, Queen Victoria was keen to spread 'fine art and practical science' among artisans through South Kensington. In India, European drawing would ease the entry of the artisan into the twentieth century. It fell to the rulers to assist him in this. The government simply failed or did not wish to see that the situations in India and Britain were different, reiterating Victorian confidence in the superiority of European technical knowledge in the sphere of art. Yet Trevelyan was forced to make some conciliatory gestures towards the radical critics: I would also establish a college for instruction in art . . . [for] the natives have great capacities for art. They have a memorable delicacy of touch; they have great accuracy of eye; and their power of imitation is quite extraordinary. The extent to which they are capable of successfully cultivating the decorative and fine arts has been shown by the results of the recent Exhibition in London.
But this did not deflect him from pursuing a western-biased art policy.
FRAMING THE SYLLA.BUS
The uniform art policy in India was not only based on South Kensington precepts; that institution was also the recruiting ground for teachers. The best known among them, Henry Hover Locke, John Lockwood Kipling, John Griffiths and the most celebrated of them all, Ernest Binfield Havell, were trained there. A close network is further suggested that Locke, Kipling and Griffiths were at the school together, and the last two remained lifelong friends. Even Joseph Crowe, a relative outsider, was made to take a course at the School of Design before joining. The South Kensington curriculum devised by Cole's associate, Richard Redgrave, for art schools in Britain had far-reaching conse¬quences for colonial art in India. Its preoccupation with 'scientific' drawing provided the framework for Indian artists. Graded instructions in four types of drawing were devised: freehand, memory, geometrical and drawing from models. Of twenty-three stages of the course, ten in drawing were followed by a two-stage painting course for those who reached higher levels. The elementary course taught two types of line drawing: perspective and architectural drawing with geometrical instruments; freehand drawing of t1.1t shapes, of ornaments from books and objects in the round. Then followed an advanced course in shaded drawing, graduating from copying illustrations to actual objects. At the figure-drawing stage, students went from flat shapes to time sketching and memory drawing. Anatomy lessons were given, but antique-casts. [[Link title]]