Leave it to Ashish Anand of DAG to unveil a museum collection of works at Bikaner House in Delhi with the epic exhibition March to Freedom.Snugly tucked into the Ballroom and Main Gallery it is an exercise in scenic splendour featuring 160 works of art and historical artefacts presented in cutting edge design dynamics replete with concise notes. Curator Malini Venkateshwaran re-interprets the well-known story of the Indian freedom struggle and anti-colonial movement through art, but what excels is the contemporary corollaries that she brings into the corridors of history.
Drawing on DAG’s extensive collection of modern and early modern Indian art is more than a mere privilege, it ranges from eighteenth and nineteenth century European paintings and prints, to unknown works by Indian artists that merit greater recognition, as well as several iconic pieces by celebrated modern artists. Particularly noteworthy are the landscapes/people scapes that take us back to the 19th century to a world that was held in the rhythm of repose.Instead of thinking of stories of plundering and amassing Indian wealth this show must be seen with an open minded devotion to the unravelling of an India that was every bit beautiful in its rustic rural idioms of yesteryear.
Amongst my favourites is the brilliant Charles D’Oyly who first arrived in India in 1797 from London and spent his first years in Calcutta before becoming Collector in Dacca from 1808-1818. He loved sketching and painting and spent a better part of time capturing places he visited. In 1827 he established one of the earliest lithographic presses in India. He encouraged both the artistic activities of Company School artists and his friends and would then produce these works in a periodical called Behar Amateur Lithographic Scrap Book which he printed and published himself.
D’Oyly also published among other books, Tom Rawe the Griffin, 1828.In this show Garden Reach 1848 is a lithograph by him that has panoramic intensities. Seen in the theme of traffic of trade it is a study in topographical construction. D’Oyly’s power of observation and his tensile touch for translating colour and contour in dulcet notations is what makes this work have an enduring power of both history and the strength of the narrative.Of course it feels somewhat despairing to look at the dhoti clad Indians only seen more as wage earners while the upper class Britishers are on carriages as well as horse back. His intensity of response to the beauty and strangeness of the waterways comes across in the freshness of his paintwork in Garden Reach.
James Hunter Serengipatnam 1804
James Hunter’s Seringapatnam is from ‘Picturesque Scenery in the Kingdom of Mysore’.
The ancient fortress city of Seringapatam (now called Srirangapatna or Srirangapatnam) was the capital for the Muslim Rajas of Mysore, Haidar Ali (c.1722 – 1782) and his eldest son, Tipu Sultan (1753 -1799).Hunter gives us a panoramic spread with temples in the background along with the maharajah on the elephant going in a procession.Hunter had such a neat hold on the geographical nuances the boulders are as important in the landscape as the temples in the backdrop.The division of figures and the scattering of topography all come into play with this epic aquatint.
Scene in Kathiawar 1830
Scene in Kathiawar is a brilliant composition of a group of turbanned traders, their pair of camels and their shields. In the distance one can spot the ruins of a monument. Created as an imaginary sketch, this was made by Captain Grindlay of the famed Grindlay’s Bank —he was a gifted artist. Grindlay, a self-taught amateur artist, came to India in 1803, aged 17.
He served with the East India Company’s military service from 1804-20 and during this period made a large number of sketches and drawings recording the life and landscape of India.The work carries with it a sense of melancholia as well as despair when you look at the attire of the traders.But they have their own identity and the camels are a picture of robust animation with their wares hanging saddled. The beauty of this work is the rustic resonance as well as the sense of knowing that traffic in transactions, in the days of antiquity had a lot to do with trading. Grindlay was indeed meticulous in his handling of contours as well as colour.
View of Juggernaut Pagoda John Gantz
John Gantz’s Jagannath Pagoda has been termed as the Juggernaut Pagoda 1900s.The temple was so called in the early 1800s. Research lays bare that Rev. Claudius Buchanan was the first British official to popularize “the Juggernaut” in both Britain and the United States in the early 1800s. Buchanan was an Anglican chaplain stationed in India and a staunch supporter of Christian missions to India.
As might be expected from a missionary during the period, Buchanan took a negative view of Juggernaut and had contempt for Hindu rituals at the Jagannath temple.However while the title of the image rankles the image is one of pensive poise and the sparse austerity of one of India’s greatest temples.Gantz had a precision and deep understanding of architectural nuances as well as spatial possibilities in dividing the frame to create a work that would tread across time and tide.The Jagannath Pagoda stands as one of Northern India’s finest monuments of worship worthy of devotion that harks back to the days of antiquity.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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