India has bewitched many an artist who has found such beauty in the landscape and its people that it has prompted them to translate some of the experienced charm onto the canvas.
The late 18th century saw an English uncle-nephew duo, Thomas and William Daniell, setting sail to India, arriving in Calcutta in 1786.
Upon arriving in the rapidly expanding city, Thomas Daniell, a landscape artist in his late thirties, published a proposal for engraving twelve views of the city. Given the scale of construction being undertaken in Calcutta at the time, he probably expected its European inhabitants to be willing to buy engravings depicting new buildings. Both he and his sixteen year old nephew William were inexperienced engravers and began working on their project by enlisting Indian craftsmen. Together they completed the set in November 1788 and it sold well among the European populace.
Following this initial encouragement through reception of their engraving work, they continued their journey in August 1789 past Murshidabad to Bhagalpur in Bihar, where they stayed with Samuel Davis, an employee of the East India Company, who happened to be an amateur artist. They continued on to Kanpur, travelling further overland to Delhi, visiting Agra, Fatehpur Sikri and Mathura along the way. The following April they took on an adventurous tour to Srinagar, Uttarakhand and Garhwal in the Himalayas. During this time they created vivid aquatint renditions of sights along the way.
At the end of 1791 the duo was back in Calcutta, where they held a lottery of their completed work. Using the proceeds to fund a tour to South India, the ongoing Third Mysore War prompted them to create oil paintings and drawings of the areas in which the conflict was taking place. They duly visited various hill-forts on the way, along with richly carved temples at Madurai and Rameshwaram. Back in Madras they held another lottery of their work, which could fund their excursion to Western India. They arrived in Bombay in March 1793 where they met James Wales (1747–95), an artist engaged in drawing the area’s cave temples. With him the Daniells visited Elephanta, Karli and Kanheri, among other places.
After eight years of travelling and etching different corners of India onto their exquisite canvas, the Daniells returned to England in September 1794. William Daniell had maintained a diary of their travels over the period 1784 to 1794, which is now preserved at the British Library. Upon their return, Thomas Daniell established a special reputation as a landscape artist of the Indian scene, a much sought after skill given the interest in the region at the time. The Daniells’ great work on India, Oriental Scenery, was published in six parts over the period 1795–1808 and comprised a total of 144 coloured aquatints and six uncoloured title-pages.
Today the largest collection of their work is present at the Victoria Memorial in Calcutta and their exquisite art continues to celebrate the glory and romance of India to this day.
– By Manika Dhama
Shop for Lithographs of Thomas and William Daniell Originals here.