New forms of Imperial Art – The Changing World Of Visual Arts

From the eighteenth century, a stream of European artists came to India along with the British traders and rulers. The artists brought with them new styles and new conventions of painting. They began producing pictures that became widely popular in Europe and helped shape Western perceptions of India. Let us learn about the new forms of Imperial art.

European artists brought with them the idea of realism. This was a belief that artists had to observe carefully and depict faithfully what the eye saw. What the artist produced was expected to look real and lifelike. European artists also brought with them the technique of oil painting – a technique with which Indian artists were not very familiar.

Oil painting enabled artists to produce images that looked real. Not all European artists in India were inspired by the same things. The subjects they painted were varied, but invariably they seemed to emphasize the superiority of Britain – its culture, its people, its power.

New forms of Imperial Art

Looking for the picturesque

One popular imperial tradition was that of picturesque landscape painting. This style of painting depicted India as a quaint land, to be explored by traveling British artists; its landscape was rugged and wild, seemingly untamed by human hands. Thomas Daniell and his nephew William Daniell were the most famous of the artists who painted within this tradition.

Portraits of authority

Another tradition of art that became immensely popular in colonial India was portrait painting. The rich and the powerful, both British and Indian, wanted to see themselves on canvas. Unlike the existing Indian tradition of painting portraits in miniature, colonial portraits were life-size images that looked lifelike and real.

The size of the paintings itself projected the importance of the patrons who commissioned these portraits. This new style of portraiture also served as an ideal means of displaying the lavish lifestyles, wealth, and status that the empire generated. As portrait painting became popular, many European portrait painters came to India in search of profitable commissions.

One of the most famous of the visiting European painters as Johann Zoffany. Many of the Indian nawabs too began commissioning imposing oil portraits by European painters.

Muhammad Ali Khan was one such nawab. After a war with the British in the 1770s he became a dependant pensioner of East India Company. But he nonetheless commissioned two visiting European artists, Tilly Kettle and George Willison, to paint his portraits and gifted these paintings to the King of England and the Directors of the East India Company.

Painting history

There was a third category of imperial art, called history painting”. This tradition sought to dramatize and recreate various episodes of British imperial history and enjoyed great prestige and popularity during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

British victories in India served as rich material for history painters in Britain. These painters drew on first-hand sketches and accounts of travelers to depict for the British public a favorable image of British actions in India.

These paintings once again celebrated the British: their power, their victories, their supremacy. One of the first of these history paintings was produced by Francis Hayman in 1762 and placed on public display in the Vauxhall Gardens in London.

Read More: The New Popular Indian Art: Kalighat Paintings- Class 8 History Notes

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