Painting during early British rule in India was the result of an umpteen number of Englishmen coming to India in search proper ground to paint, perfect Oriental surroundings and royal sponsorship. These painters were to become famous during their lifetime, with a wide Indian acceptance. Initial works were begun with engravings, later to be substituted with oil paintings, especially portraits.
In 1754, Robert Sayer produced six engravings of early British settlements in India.
In June 1769, Tilly Kettle (1735-1786) arrived in Madras as the first professional British painter. He painted a number of portraits in Madras and in 1770 a rather famous portrait of Mohammad Ali Khan, Nawab of Arcot
Within the period of 1771 1773, Kettle went on to visit the Court of Oudh, then located at Faizabad. Welcomed by Shuja-ud-daula, Nawab of Oudh, Kettle produced six portraits of the Nawab and a charming picture of a dancing girl during his stay. He also painted Indian ceremonies and rituals to include the custom of sati
, or widow burning.
Exquisite paintings during early British rule in India slowly started to unfold itself in the hands of several of geniuses from England. Within the period of 1780 to 1781, first at Madras and then at Calcutta, William Hodges (1744-1797) produced a series of landscapes done in the picturesque idiom. They later appeared as a series of aquatints in his Select Views of India (1785-88).
In 1783, Johann Zoffany (1733-1810) and in 1785 Arthur Devis (1762-1822) arrived in Madras. They both painted in oil, generally portraits of important local personages and their families. Fashionable, oil paintings were however subject to deterioration due to the climate and were frequently of large size and difficult to transport.
In July 1783, Zoffany went to Calcutta and quickly established himself accepting a number of commissions. Portraits of Mrs. Hastings and Sir Elijah Impey proved particularly noteworthy. His style varied from an unaffected naturalism to a flamboyant conversation piece.
In 1784, Zoffany also went to the Court of Oudh, now located in Lucknow, for the first of three visits. As British artists viewed the Nawab as a likely source of riches, Zoffany also executed a number of portraits of him. He also completed two famous paintings capturing the sense of life at Lucknow, "Colonel Mordaunt`s Cock Match" and "Colonel Antoine Poller with his Friends Claud Martin, John Wombwell and the Artist". A theme emerging from his work regarded the inclusion of Indian scenes in his works. This was particularly evident in Indian scenes he finished on his return to London: "Tiger Hunting in the East Indies", "A Battle piece against Hider Ally" (Haider Ali), "The Death of the Royal Tiger...." and "The Embassy of Hyderabad to Calcutta".
In the same year, Arthur William Devis (1762-1822) arrived in Calcutta where he executed ten portraits in his first two years. They included portraits of Warren Hastings, Sir Robert Chambers and his wife and other figures in Calcutta`s society. Devis often painted his portraits in outdoor settings, which were unique. Likewise, he injected Indians into his works when appropriate. Later when the Calcutta market for portraits diminished, he went into the Indian countryside to paint Indians engaged in their arts and crafts. His greatest success came in the picture, "Lord Cornwallis Receiving the Sons of Tipu as Hostages". It is apparent from these picturesque settings that painting during early British rule in India had gained pan Indian acceptance, with Nawabs acceding to these.
Thomas Hickey (1741-1824) arrived in Madras in 1784, where he was to spend most of the rest of his life. What his paintings lacked in excellence, they made up for in quantity as their simplistic execution was much appreciated. His paintings admitted the Indian and demonstrated his important collaborative role to the British presence in India. At the time of the Fourth Mysore War
in 1799, Hickey painted portraits of many of the associated important British and Indian personages. Perhaps his most famous work, "Colonel Colin Mackenzie and his Assistants" was painted in 1816, in Madras.
In 1786, Francesco Renaldi (1755-C.1799) painted the portrait of considerable interest, "The Palmer Family" in Calcutta in 1786. Here and in other works he displayed a highly sensitive skill in painting young Muslim ladies or mistresses, with delicate sensuality. He exhibited many of these works in London from 1777 to 1778.
In the same year, Ozlas Humphry (1742-1810) arrived in Lucknow. Humphrey carried out a number of miniatures. Like other British artists, he also found his way to Lucknow in search of patrons. He painted five miniatures of the Nawab of Oudh and a number of other court figures for which he received 5000 rupees.
In January 1791, Robert Home (1752-1834) established himself in Madras at the time of the Third Mysore War
. Three important paintings by Home emerged from the war: "Lord Cornwallis", the scene of "Lord Cornwallis Receiving the Sons of Tipu Sultan as Hostages" and the painting "The Death of Colonel Moorhouse" which carried overtones of the famous depiction of the death of General Wolfe at Quebec. His scenes of the Third Mysore War appeared in his Selected Views in Mysore and the Country of Tippoo Sultan (Tipu Sultan) (1794). After the war he also executed the portraits of Arthur Wellesley and Richard Colley Wellesley. In 1814, Home received appointment from Saadat Ali as Court Painter in Lucknow, where he remained for the next thirteen years painting mostly court pictures.
A distinct feature of early British painters in India was that each individual had come to this Oriental country in definite search of a patron, who would sponsor their works. As such, paintings of early British rulers in India were somewhat restricted to the royal household only. These beauties awaited the diffusion of English painters to every nook and corner of rural India.
Within the period of 1791 1795, James Wales (1747-1795) completed most of his work in Bombay and Poona (Pune
). He accomplished portraits of various figures of the Maratha Court: Mahadji Scindia, Peshwa Sawai Madhavradeo and Nana Faravis. He also accomplished a charming portrait of Charles Warre Malet`s bibi, Amber Kaur. While painting in Poona (Pune), Wales also superintended a palace school of drawing. With an enthusiasm for exploration, Wales made a number of drawings and paintings of temples of the Elephanta and of the cave temples of Salsette Island. When he died in 1795, the Daniells saw to the publication of his drawings in "Hindoo Excavations in the Mountain near Aurungabad in the Decan" (1803).
In 1794, two collections of engravings came along, representing the work of two gifted amateurs. Robert Colebrooke (1762-1898), an army officer, painted in southern India during the Mysore wars. His landscape drawings appeared in his Twelve Views of Places in the Kingdom of Mysore (1794). A fellow officer, Sir Alexander Allan (1764-1820), also drew landscapes which appeared in Collections of Views of Mysore Country (1794).
In 1802, George Chinnery (1774-1854) was the last of the "national caliber" artists to arrive in Calcutta. Although he executed many landscapes, he was evaluated by the critics as the finest portrait painter in India. Three particularly noteworthy portraits were of Sir Henry Russell, Gilbert Elliott and Francis Rawdon Hastings. Chinnery worked in oils, pencil and wash, crayon and watercolour. He also painted miniatures on ivory. He appeared to be a good teacher instructing such amateurs as Sir Charles D`Oyly (1781-1845), Lady Harriet Paget and Mrs. Martha Bellett Brown. Chinnery was to spend twenty-three years painting in India.
Painters and their prized collection of paintings during early British rule in India was something that Indians during that time could feel proud of. The times were still untouched by the malicious motives of the East India Company or even later strife issues. As such, Indians and Englishmen mingled to give life to brilliant paintings, both indoors and outdoors, evident from their delicate brush strokes.