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"Picturing India: People, Places and the World of East India Company" | Picturing India: Through English eyes

For landscape lovers and art students anywhere these images are a striking set of observations on the visual culture of India in the 1800’s.

Price:   2,495 |  4 Nov 2017 3:17 PM GMT  |  Uma Nair

Picturing  India: Through  English eyes

Mention the East India Company and you think of the many landscapes and studies that were created by Englishmen who observed and studied every detail of vintage antiquity on Indian shores during the years of the British Raj. The East India Company was a lampoon in the study of history, discourse and practice of travel that offered a new paradigm for considering visual culture, especially landscape imagery.  

Nyogi Books Picturing India is an epic journey – a study that portrays the rise of landscape painting as a distinct and dominant genre of European art with India as its lensview. Of course, the author McAleer presents the paralleled exponential growth of global travel and tourism, geographical exploration and knowledge, and colonial and imperial expansion through pictures that portray sanguine scenes of the yesteryear.

William Hodges, whose work features extensively in the book, was one of the first English artists to come to India and capture its diverse landscape. Among those who followed in his footsteps was the uncle-nephew duo of Thomas and William Daniell, who produced some of the most celebrated works of that period. Using rich archival materials, McAleer explores the connection between pictures, power and empire. In subtle ways he re-enacts art and travel, therefore, implying an artistic or aesthetic refraction of the environment through a historical lens. The Benares Ghats 1873 by Edward Lear and a singular village scene present the genre of landscape as a form of visual representation, as it re-enacts art and travel in relation to landscape and environment. Dulcet colours and lithe strokes give us a bird’s eye view of the exotic and the remote -equally fetching is the early 1830 monochromatic drawing of Benares by James Princep.

McAleer treads with care and caution – he unravels how landscape as an artistic genre was inextricably tied to the practices and ideologies of British empire. This in turn suggests that landscape is also intimately linked to related forms of travel; not only imperial travel but also discrete or symbolic customs such as pilgrimage or the tours and travels and topographies of the imagination that are predicated on the idea of place and space as intrinsically meaningful rather than merely studies of a place. The Taj Mahal with its gardens suggests that landscape in itself might, or indeed must, be regarded at some level as a form of representation and therefore imbued with political, social, cultural and ideological significance even as the monument stands as an iconographic symbol.

The book focuses on the importance of art in relation to travel – in historical, and imaginative terms – with the suggestion that it entails a productive engagement of visual culture with fields of historical geography, literature, anthropology, as well as various branches of history. The East India Company was responsible for an implicit engagement that unraveled in the conjunction of ‘landscape’ and ‘environment’. The stunning panoramic (Akbar’s Durbar)and smaller studies draw our attention to the large body of archival material, from ‘fine’ art to sketches, book illustration, maps and other media, to a vital part of art history and visual culture studies.

As a consequence, for the Daniells the paradigm of travel gave them the power to frame the beauty of the Banks of the Ganges – the limpid light of the place and the architectural vignettes of iconography. When Simpson painted the Amber Fort or the Daniells painted Tomb of Sher Shah Sur Sasaram in Bihar the study facilitates the attachment of value to a monument other than by reference to notions of quality. For landscape lovers and art stusdents anywhere these images are a striking set of observations on the visual culture of India in the 1800’s-there are idyllic luminous scenes we would never have seen anywhere in the world – but here in India.

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