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EXTRACTS FROM THE BOOK “INDIAN LIFE AND LANDSCAPES BY WESTERN ARTISTS”

Chapter Eight: Reflections Of Change

Simpson in the Himalayas
Having reunited with Jungly Khan, who had taken the luggage directly from Jubbulpore to Agra, Simpson travelled to the hills again for the hot season of 1861. After considerable preparations for his most ambitious mountain journey of all, he left Mussoorie on 19 April. Making his way to Gangotri and Jumnotri, he went over the Roopin Pass, onwards to the Sutlej, and again up the river valley to Chini, ‘where I saw many of my old friends of the year before’. He continued up the course of the Spiti River, then over the Parang Pass into Ladakh (then part of Kashmir) and on to Lake Tso Morari. At the northern end of the lake, some twenty miles long, Simpson visited the monastery at Karzak, where he experienced some local hospitality: ‘I made some sketches in the monastery. The monks have a very long service. Tea is served out to them as refreshment, and they offered some of it to me. It is made in a large pot like soup, with grease and vegetables. But as the monks were very civil to me, and allowed me to sketch, I thought it might seem bad manners to refuse, so I tasted some of the nasty stuff’. It is possible that Simpson’s watercolour of a tranquil monastic interior was based on his sketch of a monk at Karzak.

Having reached the Indus and followed its course, Simpson arrived at Leh on the Tibetan plateau by 17 July 1861. While staying in this ancient city, a former trading centre on the silk route, he made a wash drawing of the town with Buddhist stupas in the foreground and the imposing King’s Palace in the distance. From Leh, he travelled directly to Srinagar via Khalsi, Kargil, and Sonmarg. He then spent several weeks exploring the valley of Kashmir and especially its workshops. After traversing fifteen hundred miles over passes of up to eighteen thousand feet in two and a half months, most people would have welcomed this relaxing change of environment. Yet Simpson felt differently, writing of the Himalayas: ‘To the sportsman, the naturalist, the geologist, and I can speak for the artist, there is always something to interest. The Hindus believe it a place for the gods. You feel like the lotus-eaters – far above the world and its strife and troubles. The life is simple and healthy, and in all my experience I know of no more pleasant kind of existence in this world than that of wandering about in the Himalayas’. During his return journey to the plains, he crossed over the Pir Panjal Pass between Kashmir and Jammu. In this highly evocative watercolour, taken from the Pass at over eleven thousand feet, Simpson was looking back towards the Vale of Kashmir with the Jhelum River in the middle distance (fig. 26).

General view of Kashmir from Pir Panjal Pass 1863
Fig. 26. WILLIAM SIMPSON
General view of Kashmir from Pir Panjal Pass 1863
V&A: 1171-1869

Beyond lies a second range of mountains, through which he would have travelled from Ladakh to Srinagar, with Plains of Deosai visible towards the horizon. Perhaps containing an element of nostalgia, this watercolour forms another pictorial expression of Simpson's deep admiration for the Himalayas.


Robert Gill (1804-75)
Besides trips to Poona and Mahabaleshwar, Simpson's last excursion before leaving for England was to Aurangabad. He visited the nearby Fort of Daulatabad and Ellora, where he 'spent several days sketching the caves, and I may say my study and knowledge of the rock-cut temple architecture of India began there. From Ellora I went to Ajanta, where the caves are all Buddhist. The sketching of these caves, as well as of temples, topes, &c., gave me a large amount of knowledge in detail of Indian architecture, and led me to study it still farther afterwards'. It was at Ajanta that Simpson met Robert Gill, who had already been living at the site for many years. In 1851, William Carpenter had gone to Ajanta and also met Gill, though he probably had far less in common with this dedicated archaeologist than Simpson. Simpson's view of an artist painting one of the vihara caves at Ajanta portrays the bearded Gill seated at his easel, working on one of his canvas (fig. 29).

Interior of Vihara Cave, Ajanta 1862
Fig. 29. WILLIAM SIMPSON
Interior of Vihara Cave, Ajanta 1862
V&A: 1128-1869

How Robert Gill came to be living at Ajanta for so long is a complex story. Son of a London stockbroker, he joined the army in 1825 and was posted to India at his own request. While serving with the Madras Army from 1842, he was commissioned to make a pictorial record of the Buddhist caves at Ajanta, especially copies of the murals. The entire range of twenty-nine caves in a horseshoe valley in the Aurangabad district had been discovered by chance in 1819 by a group of British army officers on a hunting expedition. The discovery attracted worldwide attention, for this ancient monastic centre with its chaitya and vihara caves, dating from the third century BC to about AD 600, had been overgrown and lost for centuries.

In 1844 the Royal Asiatic Society in London alerted the East India Company to the fact that the cave temples of western India, and especially Ajanta, were in a pitiful state of neglect. It is also perhaps no coincidence that James Fergusson, who had visited the cave temples of western India in 1838, was working on his Illustrations of the Rock-Cut Temples of India (London, 1845), which included lithographs of Ajanta and Ellora. The Company’s Court of Directors in London then wrote to the Governor General, Lord Hardinge, and his Council in Calcutta, urgently recommending the preservation of the monuments, and particularly requesting that drawings of Ajanta be made by ‘some of our talented officers’. Officials in each Presidency were asked to make suggestions and the following year, Bombay reported that arrangements were being made to clear undergrowth from the caves at Ajanta and Ellora. In 1846, on the recommendation of one of the Company’s Directors in London, Colonel William Henry Sykes (1790-1872), Robert Gill was deputed to start work at Ajanta. Having served in the Bombay Army and as Statistical Reporter to the Bombay Government, Sykes had returned to London in 1831. Like Fergusson, he was a member of the Royal Asiatic Society and, as a result of his wide-ranging interests in Indian antiquities, geology and natural history, was elected its President in 1858.

Surviving many trials, Robert Gill spent the rest of his life at Ajanta, living in a serai near the site. He spent about thirty years measuring and recording the caves, preparing plans, making meticulous drawings of the sculptures and facsimile copies of the murals. He subsequently sent his collection of large oil paintings of the murals to the East India Company in London. Twenty-five of these canvases were loaned for display in the Indian Court at the Crystal Palace in Sydenham, and all were destroyed during the fire in December 1866. Fortunately, four out of the five paintings that had not been lent for display survived. Depicting Buddhist scenes from Cave 1 at Ajanta, these four pictures were acquired by the Indian Section of the South Kensington Museum in 1885. Simpson also noted this event: ‘At the time of my visit to Ajunta Major Gill was engaged in copying the paintings in the caves for the Government. The copies he made were sent home, and lent to Crystal Palace, where they were destroyed in the fire at the north transept’.

Like other archaeologists of his day, Gill was also an expert photographer. Two books published in London in 1864, The Rock-cut Temples of India and One Hundred Stereoscopic Illustrations of Indian Architecture and Natural History in W. India were illustrated with his own photographs and include descriptions by James Fergusson. In 1875, Gill fell seriously ill at Ajanta and died while being carried to Bhusawal, where he was buried.


John Lockwood Kipling (1837-1911) and John Griffiths (1838-1918)
In late 1864, John Lockwood Kipling and John Griffiths were appointed to the posts of Architectural Sculptor and head of Decorative Painting respectively at the Bombay School of Art by the Indian Education Department. Still only in their mid-twenties, they sailed together on board the SS Rippon on 12 April the following year. Kipling and Griffiths arrived in Bombay while the J.J. School of Art, as it came to be known, was still in its early stages. Despite the three-year assignment, both men were to remain in India until their retirement and became key figures in the art world in India. Kipling returned to Britain in 1893 and Griffiths followed two years later. They also became life-long friends.

In March 1865 before leaving London for Bombay, Kipling had married Alice Macdonald, one of whose sisters was the wife of Edward Burne-Jones, while another had married Edward Poynter. As artists, both Burnes-Jones and Poynter belonged to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and were staunch supporters of the Arts and Crafts Movement. In December 1865, the first of the Kipling’s two children, Rudyard, was born in Bombay and Griffiths became the child’s godfather. In 1870, Griffiths married Linnette Rebecca Davis (born 1843), also an accomplished artist, at St. Thomas’ Cathedral, Bombay.

Kipling and Griffiths were also avid supporters of the Arts and Crafts Movement. This social and aesthetic movement had developed in the wake of the Great Exhibition, partly to reassert the importance of craftsmanship and good design in the face of increasing industrialisation and mechanization. Its roots lay in the ideals of John Ruskin (1819-1900) and A.W.N. Pugin (1812-52), who deplored the effects of industrialisation, and in the activities subsequently of William Morris (1834-96), the champion of hand crafted articles such as textiles, furniture, tiles, and even books. They all harked back nostalgically to the mediaeval guilds with their high standards of craftsmanship. Also among the Arts and Crafts Movement’s many followers were painters of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, founded in 1848 by three fellow-students at the Royal Academy, John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. As a reactionary group, these painters sought to recapture the basic principles of early Italian art. They were attracted by its simplicity and directness as opposed to the High Renaissance ideals of Raphael, which they saw as too academic and inhibiting. Fidelity to nature was one of their beliefs and in their devotion to mediaeval values they were greatly supported by Ruskin. Many of the newly founded Schools of Art, worldwide, followed the same principles of this influential Movement.

In Bombay, Kipling and Griffiths shared an interest in the occupations, crafts and daily lives of the local people. Kipling was especially fascinated by Indian crafts and their techniques. He visited the artisans and craftsmen’s workshops and studios, making numerous detailed drawings showing them at work with their various implements. A group of these in the Museum’s collection, many of which were made in late 1870 at the specific request of the government. The tour included Simla, Amritsar, Delhi, Cawnpore, and Agra (figs 35-38). Then in 1872 while visiting Khamgaon in Berar, about 150 miles north-east of Aurangabad he became fascinated by process of cotton cultivation and produced a series of studies from life, including seeds being sown, filling the gunny bags and farmers waiting for an offer in the local market (figs 39- 41). In 1875, Kipling moved from Bombay to Lahore, where he became Principal of the new Mayo College of Arts. About ten years later he painted this vivid study of ‘A Sweetmeat-seller of Lahore’ (fig. 42).

A Sweetmeat-seller of Lahore. About 1885
Fig. 42. JOHN LOCKWOOD KIPLING
A Sweetmeat-seller of Lahore. About 1885
V&A: P.35-1931

Griffiths’ painted many watercolours in a range of earth colours, such as his study of Ali the fisherman and the head of a Kunbi. The local people in Bombay were also a source of interest as is clear in his vivid portrayal of a woman holding a fish on her head, which inspired the Indian artist M.V. Dhurandhar to paint the same subject with a greater sense of realism. Many of Griffiths’ pictures depict women carrying or collecting water from the well. All these images and, for example, ‘A Drink by the Way’ have the same underlying theme, a reference to water, thereby emphasizing this most precious commodity in people’s lives (fig. 46).

A Drink by the way - a street scene in Bombay. 1876
Fig. 46. JOHN GRIFFITHS
A Drink by the way - a street scene in Bombay. 1876
V&A: E.896-1877

These stylized paintings thus evoke a special significance, the compositions of which have a timeless quality that heightens their symbolic meaning in the light of everyday life. Griffiths also painted the colourful costumes of the local people, capturing their graceful stance and natural elegance in the oils, watercolours, and gouache paintings that he produced in and around Bombay. In 1869, he began exhibiting these subjects at the Royal Academy in London. One of Griffiths' most haunting images, 'The Temple Steps', a late oil painted in Bombay about 1892, shows women providing alms to the poor as they leave the temple complex. A little girl in the foreground, holding a woman's hand, gestures towards a dove or pigeon while other birds peck the ground. These features contain symbolic references to aspects of Indian society, such as the spirit of giving, represented here in a religious context. The work was shown at the Royal Academy in 1893. Griffiths received many commissions in India from the Viceroy, Lord Northbrook, Sir James Fergusson, the Governor of Bombay, and Sir Takhtsinghi Jaswantsinghji, Ruler of Bhaunagar. He also helped to organize exhibitions in Bombay in 1873 and 1879, the Calcutta International Exhibition of 1883-84, and the Antwerp Exhibition in 1885.


Bombay Buildings
Following the demolition of the Fort's walls in 1862, Governor Frere drew up a list of fourteen public buildings that were most urgently needed for the city's future growth. Others structures followed and the result was a spate of Neo-Gothic Victorian buildings that ranked alongside the finest architecture of its time in the world. The Bombay climate was highly conducive to this style. Architects could indulge in open staircases, galleries and balconies, thus creating an exciting version of the Gothic Revival. Within twenty years, the skyline of the Bombay Fort area had altered almost beyond recognition. Among these buildings, creating spectacular new vistas from many viewpoints and especially from the Maidan were the following: the Secretariat and Public Works Department Office (1869-72) by General Henry St Clair Wilkins, both essays in John Ruskin's favourite Venetian Gothic and the most Oriental of Italian styles; the University buildings (1868-80) by Sir George Gilbert Scott and others; the High Court (1870-78) by General John Augustus Fuller; the General Post Office (1869-72) by James Trubshawe and others; the Victoria Terminus (1878-88), and the Municipal Corporation Building (1888-89) by Frederick W. Stevens; the Bombay, Baroda and Central India Railway Offices (1893-99) by Frederick W. Stevens and his son, Charles F. Stevens. In addition to these major public buildings the new structures also included hospitals, banks, churches, schools and colleges.

While teaching at the J.J. School of Art between 1865 and 1874, Lockwood Kipling and his students were responsible for certain decorations on new buildings in Bombay, including wrought-iron work, bronze casting, carving and modelling of sculptures and ornaments. About fifty buildings constructed around this time kept the art students occupied. One of the earliest was Crawford Market, 1866-68. Its design by William Emmerson, winner of the competition, owed much to William Burges's love of early French Gothic. Above the main arched entrance to the market, a group of three tympanums contain reliefs by Lockwood Kipling carved in Porbandar stone. Flanking the central panel with its dedication to Arthur Crawford, Municipal Commissioner in Bombay, 1865-71, the scenes carved in high relief represent the sale of fruits (left) and the sale of agricultural products (right), symbolizing the market's activities.

Like William Burges, Sir George Gilbert Scott submitted his designs without ever visiting Bombay. Scott's plans for the University, comprising the Library with its soaring Rajabhai Tower (named after the mother of the key sponsor, Premchand Roychund), and the Convocation Hall, were based on a later French Gothic prototype than Emmerson's choice for Crawford Market. As was the case with many designs sent from abroad, the architects and engineers responsible for construction would make alterations to fit the budget or to suit the local climate more effectively. This watercolour depicting an early design by Scott for the Convocation Hall shows several features that were never built. For example, galleries containing external staircases leading to side galleries replaced the heavy buttresses flanking the north porch (left), while the other porch (right) was never built. Double balustrades were built in place of the five gables along the east and west façades. Even before construction began at the end of 1868, Molecey, Fuller and others had adapted Scott's designs to Indian requirements and available materials. Students from the J.J. School of Art again were responsible for the stone-carved features such as gargoyles and capitals. The entire University complex, with its lavish decorations, stained glass and Minton tiles from London, took almost twelve years to complete. Charles Mant (1839-81) of the Royal Engineers, who was promoted Major in 1874, was the superintending architect. This finished watercolour showing the Convocation Hall from the west was probably prepared as an exhibition piece, and may have been exhibited by Scott in London during the early stages of the project.

Having trained at the Addiscombe Military Academy, Charles Mant arrived in Bombay in 1859. He was soon appointed by the Government as a Superintendent at the J.J. School of Art (probably in the Architecture Department). He established his architectural practice in Bombay and designed a number of public buildings for Surat, Kholapur, Ajmer, Patna and elsewhere. A major opportunity arose in 1875 when he was asked to produce designs for four different palaces for local ruler across the country, at Cooch Behar, Darbhanga, Kolhapur and Baroda. Since the Gaekwar of Baroda, Sayaji Rao, had only just succeeded as a minor (aged twelve years), it was probably the newly appointed Diwan, Raja Tanjore Madhava Rao, who organized the commission for a new palace. Robert Fellowes Chisholm (1840-1915)completed the building project by 1890, after Mant's death in 1881.This watercolour probably represents an early design for the Laxmi Vilas Palace at Baroda, and may also have been exhibited in London as an example of his architectural virtuosity. Although the Palace as built included many features evident in Mant's early perspective, the final skyline was very different, dominated by a tall tower crowned with a group of chattris, with domes much more Oriental than shown in this view. In character, however, the building above all displays a blending of Indian and Western architectural styles, reflecting the dualistic role that many Indian princes felt at that time.

Along with the collections at Osborne House, the British Library, London, the Victoria Memorial Hall, Kolkatta and the Yale Center for British Art in the U.S., the collections in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London included in this volume, represent a lasting tribute to those artists associated with India who contributed greatly to the history of British art over the centuries.

William Hodges in his Travels in India (London, 1793), encouraged other artists to visit the subcontinent but with the following proviso: 'A Painter for such pursuits ought necessary to be endowed three great qualities; a perfect knowledge of his art, and with powers to execute readily and correctly; judgment to chuse [sic] his subjects; and fancy to combine and dispose them to advantage … but the imagination must be under the strict guidance of cool judgment, or we shall have fanciful representations instead of the truth, which, must be the object of such researches. Everything has a particular character, and it is the finding out the real and natural character which is required; for should a painter be possessed of the talents of a Raphael, and were he to represent a Chinese with the beauty of a Grecian character and form, however excellent his work might be, it would have no pretentions to reputation as characteristical of that nation.'