Forgotten Masters: Indian Painting for the East India Company
February 11, 2020 7:31 AM   Subscribe

“You don’t think of the Sistine Chapel as a work of papal art, it’s by Michelangelo and Raphael [among others], but somehow because the artists are Indian and their names have never been known, the work has been pigeonholed as ‘Company School’ art. The key thing has been to remove the Company from the centre of the story and foreground the genius of the Indian artists, it’s a tragedy that Ghulam Ali Khan, Shaikh Zain ud-Din and Yellapah of Vellore are names people simply don’t know,” he continues. (from the BBC article)

Even the term "Company Style" is problematic, evoking colonialism and the erasure of the artist.

"Whereas the modern tourist would rely on his camera for such a task, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century travelers had to hire Indian painters to do the job. The works produced by these artists, undertaken in a European style and palette, are known collectively as “Company” paintings. "

If you're in London, this looks like a lovely show.

And if not, the V & A has digitized their collection, for more browsing (and drooling).
posted by korej (7 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
 
Wow, I don't know anything about this. These are wonderful, thank you for the post.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:49 AM on February 11


Wow, these are beautiful, have never heard of these artists. I'm glad that they are getting their proper credit. I needed something beautiful today, I'm having a rough day and I needed to be reminded about something good, and I can feel proud of my culture in this way. Thanks for this post.
posted by Fizz at 7:51 AM on February 11 [3 favorites]


I'm clicking through the digitized collection. And my jaw is just dropping. There's so much to unpack here.
posted by Fizz at 7:55 AM on February 11


I'm pretty annoyed I got an entire degree in drawing/painting and I don't remember these "company paintings" coming up once, despite there obviously being a lot to learn here! There's a lot of inspiring work here, I'm already getting some ideas for the next thing I was to make. I'm especially appreciating a lot of these clean compositions in this VA collection. I'm also just realizing I've got like 150 more pages to go! A lot of these paintings have a really neat shading effect done to them. Like, they'll have some normal ground shadows, but there will also be a slight shadow around one edge of a figure, almost like a drop shadow from an opaque image on a clear film slightly elevated above another surface.

Actually, these are painted on mica, so maybe it really is just a photographing effect of paintings on translucent mica!
posted by GoblinHoney at 8:08 AM on February 11 [2 favorites]


I saw a bunch of this style of painting when I visited India and they were indeed beautiful and very well executed. This show looks great! But they are also a very specific genre; art made for sale to British collectors. Their colonialist history is inescapable. I think that's why they've traditionally been looked down upon; not because the quality wasn't good, but because the subject matter was somehow inauthentic, commercial.

I'm most interested in how the collection addresses something the BBC article hints at, "arguing for the recognition of painters as agents of resistance and change". It's fun to look at art like this for hidden or coded messages of autonomy. OTOH it's also a very far cry from work produced in full freedom.

It's great they're able to attach the artists' names to the works. I wonder how well they were paid?
posted by Nelson at 8:24 AM on February 11


Thank you very much for this.

I remember seeing a LOT of stuff from India when I visited the V&A in the mid 90s. But I don't remember this specifically, as I was more interested in the Sculptures.

Really nice that they were able to assign some of these art to particular artists.
posted by indianbadger1 at 8:42 AM on February 11


Thank you - I’ve never heard of this, and also I LOVE the Wallace Collection so a double win!
posted by tardigrade at 1:22 PM on February 11


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