Anglo Indian Art and Architecture

Posted by Freddy on Oct-3-2010

There were professional and amateur artists and architects among the British in India. Tilly Kettle, John Zoffany and Arthur Davis were the pioneers who arrived in India in the second half of the eighteen century. John Smart and Ozias Humphery were arguably the most important of these early artists. They were followed by artists like George Chinnery who had great reputation among the British. All these artists painted in oils, but the most characteristic medium was water color. Most of the water-color drawings were intended as studies for engravings, aquatints and later, or lithographs. The vogue in Britain for picturesque for Nature in the raw was so widespread and profitable that it was only natural that artists visit India – an idealized and picturesque India which must have seemed oddly at variance with the description of travelers and later, of missionaries.

Captain William, Captain Grindlay and Sir Charles D’oly were some of the fairly accomplished amateur artists of the 19th century. According to Edwards the Englishmen who came after to India after 1858 did not considered drawing and paintings as “manly accomplishments” so they left it to their women. By this time, the interest in the picturesque had died down and even professional artists confined themselves to narrative paintings demonstrating some unimpeachable and easily recognizable moral precept. The art of British in India is largely forgotten, but the way it rekindled the native interest in art is of special significance.

The achievements of the British are more tangible in the field of architecture. In the beginning, the architectural style of public buildings remained classical inspiration. In art and architecture the predilection for the picturesque continued in vogue for some time. In the latter half of the 19th century the public architecture of the Indian empire began to reflect the taste of the Victorian England. A range of buildings came up, embodying most of the fashionable features of the western architecture from Neo-Gothic to Pseudo- Italian Renaissance. The Victoria Memorial Hall in marble built in Kolkata is said to be in the style of Italian renaissance with the addition of a suggestion of Orientalism in the arrangement of the domes and minor details.

When the British decided to move their capital from Kolkata to Delhi in 1912 they employed two English architects, Sir Edwin Lutyens and Sir Herbert Baker, to design the major public buildings. The result was a series of grandiose barracks incorporating classical and Mughal motifs without synthesis or sympathy. The buildings were more a gesture of defiance to growing Indian assertions than anything else, for they were and are completely unsuited to the Indian climate. New Delhi is perhaps the most fitting monument to the British in India. These building were raised not to impress the Indians but to convince the British themselves of their new status as rulers. But when British erected New Delhi, they intended it as a statement of their intention to remain in India. The result was it is a Euro-Asian architecture in which the European and Indian elements stand uneasily together.

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