Museums never have the space to display their whole collection, and the bigger the museum, the greater the number of its treasures that remain locked in storage, practically unseen.
Rare watercolours, sketches, aquatints, lithographs and engravings by European artists who visited India between 1790 and 1927 were rescued from this fate when they travelled from the storage vaults of the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum in London to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, Mumbai, earlier this year. According to Rajeev Lochan, director of the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), New Delhi, the success of that show has prompted the Union culture ministry to host the show, Indian Life and Landscape by Western Artists, at the NGMA.
Pheroza Godrej, one of the curators who helped put up the show, says that the works chosen are a representative mix of different styles, genres, mediums and the artists who employed them. Before the invention of photography in the 1860s, and until much later than that, European artists sought to portray and draw realistic images of the Indian landscape and its people. With the result that, as Lochan points out, the predominantly “academic realistic” style of the works usually offers an authentic glimpse into the life and times of the subcontinent in the 18th century.
Indian Life and Landscape by Western Artists will show at the National Gallery of Modern Art, Jaipur House, New Delhi, from 27 October to 6 December.
Indian Life and Landscape by Western Artists: A glimpse
1. Interior of the Neminath Temple, Dilwara, Mount Abu, by William Carpenter
Pencil and watercolour heightened with white on paper, 1851
In India from 1851-56, Carpenter travelled from Bombay to Rajasthan, Delhi, Kashmir, Lahore and Afghanistan, and is known for having accurately depicted people and street life.
2 Tom Raw visits Taylor & Co’s emporium, Calcutta, by Charles D’Oyly
Watercolour on paper, 1825-28
D’Oyly published a long satirical poem with his own illustrations called Tom Raw, the Griffinin 1828. This painting illustrates Tom Raw’s visit to an emporium, selling European porcelain, cut glass and other imported goods to the British inhabitants of the city.
3. Ancient Observatory, Delhi, by William Simpson
Pencil and watercolour on paper, 1864
Simpson had made a name documenting the Crimean War in 1854 and was sent to India to sketch well-known sites in and around Delhi associated with the war of 1857. The now bustling site of Jantar Mantar looks forlorn in the moonlight.
4. Eastern Gate of the Jummah Musjid at Delhi, by Thomas Daniell
Aquatint on paper, 1795
One of a set of 24 prints published by the celebrated team of Daniell and his nephew William under the title Oriental Scenery. They arrived in India in 1786, travelling extensively across the country and drawing.
5. A drink by the way, Street-scene in Bombay, by John Griffiths
Watercolour on paper, 1876
Known for his accurate studies of Indian life, Griffiths was among the best known British painters working in India during the later part of the 19th century.