India under British Imperialism

Indian Architecture under British Imperialism

The establishment of the British Empire greatly influenced the architecture and culture of India and led to a fusion of styles and techniques.

Learning Objectives

Summarize the changes that took place in Indian architecture during the establishment of the British Empire

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The establishment of the British Empire in the 18th century and the subsequent westernization of India paved the way for a radical change of artistic taste, and a new style of art and architecture emerged.
  • As a whole, the European advent was marked by a relative insensitivity to native art traditions; former Indian patrons of art became less wealthy and influential, and Western art became more ubiquitous .
  • The fusion of Indian traditions with European style at this time became evident in architectural styles; as with the Mughals, architecture under European colonial rule became an emblem of power designed to endorse the occupying power.
  • The Indo-Saracenic Revival was an architectural style and movement in the late 19th century, where public and government buildings were often rendered on an intentionally grand scale.

Key Terms

  • Company style: A hybrid Indo-European style of paintings made in India by Indian artists, many of whom worked for European patrons in the British East India Company or other foreign Companies in the 18th and 19th centuries.
  • aesthetic: Concerned with beauty, artistic impact, or appearance.
  • advent: Coming; coming to; approach; arrival.
  • ubiquitous: Being everywhere at once: omnipresent.

Impact of British Imperialism in India

The British arrived in India in 1615; over the centuries, they gradually overthrew the Maratha and Sikh empires and other small independent kingdoms. The establishment of the British Empire in the 18th century laid the foundation for modern India’s contact with the West. Westernization paved the way for a radical change of artistic taste, and a style emerged that represented the adjustment of traditional artists to new fashions and demands.

British colonial rule had a great impact on Indian art. As a whole, the European advent was marked by a relative insensitivity to native art traditions; former Indian patrons of art became less wealthy and influential, and Western art became more ubiquitous as the British Empire established schools of art in major cities, such as the Bombay Art Society in 1888. The Company style of paintings, for example, became common, created by Indian artists working for European patrons of the East India Company . By 1858, the British government took over the task of administration of India under the British Raj. The fusion of Indian traditions with European style at this time became evident in architectural styles. Toward the end of the 19th century, rising nationalism attempted a conscious revival of Indian art.

Architecture Under British Imperialism

As with the Mughals, architecture under European colonial rule became an emblem of power designed to endorse the occupying power. Numerous European countries invaded India and created architectural styles reflective of their ancestral and adopted homes. The European colonizers created architecture that symbolized their mission of conquest, dedicated to the state or religion. Among the key British architects of this time were Robert Fellowes Chisholm, Charles Mant, Henry Irwin, William Emerson, George Wittet, and Frederick Stevens.

The Indo-Saracenic Revival

The Indo-Saracenic Revival (also known as Indo- Gothic , Mughal-Gothic, Neo-Mughal, or Hindu-Gothic) was an architectural style and movement by British architects in the late 19th century. It drew elements from native Indo-Islamic and Indian architecture and combined them with Gothic revival and Neo-Classical styles favored in Britain. Public and government buildings, such as clock towers, courthouses, municipal buildings, colleges, and town halls, were often rendered on an intentionally grand scale, reflecting and promoting a notion of an invincible British Empire. Infrastructure was composed of iron, steel, and poured concrete and included domes , overhanging eaves, pointed arches , vaulted roofs, pinnacles , open pavilions, and pierced open arcading.

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Municipal Corporation Building, Mumbai: This municipal building in Mumbai reflects the Indo-Saracenic architecture of its time.

Examples of Colonial Architecture

The major cities colonized during this period were Madras, Calcutta, Bombay, Delhi, Agra, Bankipore, Karachi, Nagpur, Bhopal, and Hyderabad. St. Andrew’s Kirk in Madras (now Chennai) is known for its colonial architecture. The building is circular in form and is sided by two rectangular sections; the entrance is lined with 12 colonnades and two British lions, with the motto of East India Company engraved on them. The interior holds 16 columns , and the dome is painted blue and decorated with gold stars.

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St. Andrew’s Church: St. Andrew’s Church in present day Chennai is an example of British colonial architecture in India.

The Victoria Memorial in Calcutta is another symbol of the British Empire, built as a monument in tribute to Queen Victoria’s reign. The plan of the building consists of one large central part covered with a larger dome, with colonnades separating the two chambers. Each corner holds a smaller dome and is floored with marble plinth. The memorial stands on 26 acres of garden surrounded by reflective pools.

Indian Painting under British Imperialism

Under British Imperialism, painting in India took on many western characteristics throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the effects the arrival of the British Empire had on Indian painting

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The establishment of the British Empire in the 18th century and the subsequent westernization of India paved the way for a radical change of artistic taste, and a new style of art and painting emerged.
  • In the 18th century, the merchants of the East India Company provided a large market for native art, and a distinct genre of watercolor painting developed known as the Company style .
  • The attitude in the mid-19th century was one of general British disregard for Indian art, followed by the establishment of British schools and the propagation of Western values in art education.
  • Raja Ravi Varma was among the first Indian painters to use Western techniques to illustrate Indian themes and traditions.
  • The Bengal School of Art arose in the early 20th century as an avant garde and nationalist movement reacting against the Western academic art styles; instead, it promoted a return to paintings such as the Mughal miniatures .

Key Terms

  • Company style: A hybrid Indo-European style of paintings made in India by Indian artists, many of whom worked for European patrons in the British East India Company or other foreign Companies in the 18th and 19th centuries.
  • East India Company: An English and later British joint-stock company, which was formed to pursue trade with the East Indies but ended up trading mainly with the Indian subcontinent and Qing China.

Overview: British Imperialism and Art

British colonial rule had a great impact on Indian art. Old patrons of art became less wealthy and influential, and Western art more ubiquitous as the British Empire established schools of art in major cities, such as the Bombay Art Society in 1888. The Company style of paintings became common, created by Indian artists working for European patrons of the East India Company. The style was mainly Romanticized, with watercolor the primary medium used to convey soft textures and tones . By 1858, the British government took over the task of administration of India under the British Raj, and the fusion of Indian traditions with European style at this time is evident in a great deal of the artwork from this period.

Painting Under British Imperialism

The Company Style

In the 18th century, oil and easel painting brought many European artists to India in search of fame and fortune, including Thomas and William Daniel, Joshua Reynolds, George Chinnery, and others. The merchants of the East India Company provided a large market for native art in the 18th century, and a distinct genre of watercolor painting developed that depicted scenes of everyday life, regalia of princely courts, and Indian festivities and rituals . Referred to as the Company style or Patna style, this style of painting flourished at first in Murshidabad and spread to other cities of British India.

The Establishment of Art Schools

While the 18th century saw moderate British manifestations of Indian art, monuments, literature, and culture , the attitude in the mid-19th century shifted to one of disregard for Indian art. To propagate Western values in art education along with the colonial agenda, the British established art schools in Calcutta and Madras in 1854 and in Bombay in 1857. After 1857, John Griffith and John Lockwood Kipling came out to India together and headed the Sir JJ School of Art. Griffith was considered one of the finest Victorian painters to come to India, and Kipling went on to head the Mayo School of Arts in 1878.

Raja Ravi Varma

Raja Ravi Varma (1848–1906) was a remarkable self-taught Indian painter from the princely state of Travancore. He is considered the first of the modernists, and he advocated for the use of Western techniques to develop a new aesthetic in the subjective interpretation of Indian culture. His work was considered to be among the best examples of the fusion of Indian traditions with the techniques of European academic art, and it came to play an important role in the development of the Indian national consciousness.

A woman, Shakuntala, dressed in bright red, pretends to remove a thorn from her foot, while actually looking over her shoulder for her husband. Two other women are smiling at each other.

Shakuntal by Ravi Varma: Ravi Varma’s work, such as this painting, used Western composition, perspective, and realism to illustrate Indian themes.

The Bengal School

As more artists began using Western ideas of composition , perspective , and realism to illustrate Indian themes, others rebelled against these styles. The Bengal School of Art, commonly referred to as the Bengal School, arose in the early 20th century as an avant garde and nationalist movement reacting against the Western academic art styles previously promoted in India. Also known as “Indian style of painting” in its early days, it was led by Abanindranath Tagore (1871–1951) and supported by British art teacher E. B. Havell. Following the influence of Indian spiritual ideas in the West, Havell attempted to reform the teaching methods at the Calcutta School of Art by encouraging students to imitate Mughal miniatures. This caused controversy among some who considered it to be a retrogressive move; however, Havell and Tagore believed the technique to be expressive of India’s distinct spiritual qualities, as opposed to the “materialism” of the West.

The best known painting by Tagore is Bharat Mata (“Mother India”), depicting a young woman with four arms in the manner of Hindu deities , holding objects symbolic of India’s national aspirations. Other painters and artists of the Bengal school included Gaganendranath Tagore, Asit Kumar Haldar, M.A.R Chughtai, Sunayani Devi, Kshitindranath Majumdar, Nandalal Bose, Kalipada Ghoshal, Sughra Rababi, and Sudhir Khastgir. The Bengal school eventually paved the way for future modernist movements, and its influence declined in the 1920s.

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Bharat Mata, a painting by Abanindranath Tagore: Bharat Mata by Abanindranath Tagore (1871–1951), a nephew of the poet Rabindranath Tagore and a pioneer of the movement that led to the Bengal School.