Wallace Collection: Indian Masters for the East India Company
What an unexpected delight. Where I thought it would take me 10 minutes, took me over an hour as almost all exhibits were fascinating to behold.
As I wandered around the exhibition my mind was unwound and spread out with the emotional impact the images were having on me: imperialism, profiteering, suppression, trade, advancement, opportunities, Western values applied for good or ill? Questions, questions. That can be the wonder of art if you permit it – it opens your mind and unravels it making it difficult to remain as it was within the old comfort zone.
In brief, the event covers examples of Indian artists’ works for East India Company patrons’ commissions. Late 18th, early 19th centuries, roughly. At a time when the EIC was still independent, when botany, flora, fauna, animal and bird life were becoming of great interest to Georgian and Victorian scientists and explorers.
The exhibition hence contains many exquisite paintings of birds, plants and animals but for me what was of fascinating interest was the Indian artists’ depiction of themselves, their contemporaries and their British overlords.
The principle Indian artists that caught my eye were:
Yellapah of Vellore
Shaikh Muhammad Amir of Karraya
Ghalam Ali Khan
Extraction from a Wallace Collection label:
“Artists adapted to suit British tastes. An extraordinary fusion of traditional Indian artistic approaches with British styles and techniques, using English watercolours on English Whatman paper.”
Unfortunately, but understandably photography was not permitted, so I’ve downloaded some images from the Internet to example the works on display.
Amazing art tale: Sir Elijah Impey with his wife Mary, commissioned a series of paintings by local Indian artists. The assembled works became known as ‘The Impey Album’. Sir Elijah was Chief Justice at Calcutta’s Supreme Court in 1773 having been called to the English Bar in 1756. With his wife Mary they had 5 sons in India and returned to England where he became MP for New Romney in 1790.