In the Company Manner
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In the Company Manner: Indian-British Painting for the Merchant Class


The East India Company was founded in 1600 under the auspices of Queen Elizabeth I of England in order to conduct and promote trade in South Asia. By the middle of the 18th century, the British East India Company had gained unprecedented levels of control in the region. It brought its own administrative systems and well-organized military to newly established port cities, such as Kolkata (then Calcutta), which served as bases for its primary business of trade in textiles, tea, and spices.

Although far from their homeland in Britain, Company personnel—who often brought their wives and families to live with them during their posting—were keenly interested in collecting information about India. Reflecting the interest in methods of scientific investigation that was widespread in 18th-century Europe, many of these patrons commissioned Indian artists to create sophisticated and realistic paintings of the local flora and fauna. Others purchased readymade sets depicting people, customs, and occupations that were produced in Indian workshops.

This exhibition presents the range of works, often designated as Company School painting, created by artists in India for British collectors. All of the paintings reveal the adjustments that Indian artists made to their longstanding traditional practices in order to accommodate the interests of the British, who brought with them an attitude of intellectual inquiry and a self-proclaimed pursuit of the “picturesque”. Works produced “in the Company manner” incorporate interpretations of European artistic conventions, such as shadow and perspective, a subdued palette, and other stylistic features; and they are often characterized by a sense of being viewed by a detached observer.

But these paintings are also an extension of the Mughal interest in animal portraiture and carry the technical accomplishment, vibrant coloring, and masterful compositions of the era’s best artists forward into the era of British domination. The adaptability of these artists is not to be underestimated. To produce works in the style desired by their patrons, artists like Zayn al-Din needed to study English natural history books and learn how to work with new materials like European-made paper and watercolors. That they mastered these new techniques and materials so quickly is a testament to their virtuosic skill.
 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 11 June 2013 23:43

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