IMPERIAL FORMS OF ART- THE CHANGING WORLD OF VISUAL ARTS
From the 18th century, a stream of European artists came to India along with the British traders and rulers. The artists brought with them new styles and new conventions of painting.
European artists brought with them the idea of realismi.e. what the artist produced was expected to look real and lifelike.
European artists also brought with them the technique of oil painting – a technique with which Indian artists were unaware of. Oil painting enabled artists to produce images that looked real.
Not all but many artists although painted the subjects that were varied, but invariably they seemed to emphasise the superiority of Britain – its culture, its people, its power.
One popular imperial tradition was that of picturesque landscape painting. This style of painting depicted India as a quaint land, to be explored by travelling British artists; its landscape was rugged and wild, seemingly untamed by human hands.
Thomas Danielland his nephew William Daniell were the most famous of the artists who painted within this tradition.
They produced some of the most evocative picturesque landscapes of Britain’s newly conquered territories in India.
Another tradition of art that became immensely popular in colonial India was portrait painting. The rich and the powerful, both British and Indian, wanted to see themselves on canvas.
The British paintings unlike Indian ones were not miniature but life-size and looked real. This new style of portraiture also served as an ideal means of displaying the lavish lifestyles, wealth and status that the empire generated.
As portrait painting became popular, many Europeanportrait painters came to India in search of profitable commissions and one of them was Johann Zoffany.
Many of the Indian nawabs too began commissioning imposing oil portraits by European painters.
The British posted residents in Indian courts and began controlling the affairs of the state, undermining the power of the king.
In reaction to this, some nawabs interfered while some accepted the political and cultural superiority of the British. They hoped to socialise with the British, and adopt their styles and tastes.
Muhammad Ali Khan was one such nawab. After a war with the British in the 1770s, he became a dependentpensioner of East India Company.
He commissioned two visiting European artists, Tilly Kettle and George Willison, to paint his portraits and gifted these paintings to the King of England and the Directors of the East India Company.
The Nawab had lost political power, but the portraits allowed him to look at himselfas a royal figure.
This tradition sought to dramatiseand recreate various episodes of British imperial history and enjoyed great prestige and popularity.
These paintings once again celebrated theBritish: their power, their victories, their supremacy. One such painting was made by Francis Hayman in 1762 depicting Battle of Plassey.
The celebration of British military triumph can be seen in the many paintings of the Battle of Seringapatam.
It is a painting fullof action and energy. The painting dramatises the event and glorifies the British triumph.
Imperial history paintings sought to create a public memory of imperial triumphs. Victories had to be remembered, implanted in the memory of people, both inIndia and Britain.