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Of Art in Archives


Malvika Maheshwari


By B.N. Goswamy
Niyogi Books, New Delhi, 2013, pp. 204, Rs. 6000.00

VOLUME XXXVIII NUMBER 4 April 2014

Observing, embodying and document- ing these moments of transition and experiencing India in all its splendour and unfamiliarity were English painters Thomas Daniell and William Daniell. Thomas, the senior of the two, was born in 1749 and after struggling for some years as a painter in England, ‘animated with a love of the romantic and the beautiful,’ decided to set sail for India in search of the picturesque as well as some patrons. Accompanied by his fifteen-year-old pupil and nephew, William, he landed in Calcutta in 1786 and spent the next eight years ‘traversing the land and painting, from eastern parts to the plains of Delhi and Agra and back, and then to the south of India.’ Their travels culminated in one of the finest illustrated volumes of the period—Oriental Scenery, comprising of ‘twenty-four views in Hindoostan’, which included historical sites, ruins, religious places, nature among others.   This elegant coffee table book, Daniells’ India, ‘itself a handsomely produced work of art,’ is a sincere and praiseworthy initiative of the National Archives of India to bring these precious series of paintings out of their ‘lock and key’ and make them ‘accessible to the public at large.’ Tastefully designed, the book immediately draws its reader into Daniells’ travels across eighteenth century India, and indeed to their impressions, artistic mastery and finesse (with a thoughtful reproduction of the original dedication of the work to the Director of the East India Company, London, March 1, 1795). But the book is so much more than just a reproduction of these paintings. It is as much about the artists as it is about India, as much about the explorers as it is about the ‘other’ and as much about the colonizers as it is about their conquests. Moreover, buildings like the Writers’ Building in Calcutta, the Palace of Nawaub Sujah Dowla at Lucknow, the Jumma Masjid at Delhi and many more, their surroundings, cities and ruins that have been captured by the artists, reveal just as much about British India as about the centuries that have preceded and succeeded it. A book such as this, which tells also the story of the chroniclers of such times, makes for an excellent, valuable addition to the library.   As many studies have revealed, the role of EIC or even the later British Government in supporting explorers, artists and researchers in the subcontinent was at best belated and subservient to other direct economic ...


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