The exhibit “In The Company Manner” showcases a selection of watercolor paintings created by Indian artists for British collectors from 1770-1890, during a time when the East Indian Company wielded extensive military and administrative power in the subcontinent. The Company traded primarily in silk, tea, opium, and textiles and greatly influenced Indian culture and the arts until its disbandment in 1858.
A style known as “company painting” emerged during this period in response to market demand from the East India Company’s personnel for precise reproductions of natural, architectural, and cultural subjects. These tastes reflected an increase in scientific inquiry that developed in Europe in the 18th century. At the request of British patrons, Indian artists created painstakingly accurate drawings of local flora and fauna with meticulous attention to detail. Indian artists had a long tradition of depicting realistic natural history paintings with close attention to texture and detail for Mughal emperors during their rule in the 16th century. In adjusting their techniques to record paintings for employees of the East India Company, the artists not only developed their painting style, but also provided valuable information critical to the Company in the understanding of the commercial properties of native Indian plants for export.
“In the Company Manner” showcases fine examples of commissioned pieces created during this period. The British fascination and curiosity for Indian people, plants, and animals resulted in drawings and studies painted with remarkable draftsmanship and understanding of form, texture, and anatomy. Indian artists did, however, adopt a more muted color palette in order to appeal to the European taste of “picturesque” paintings which was fashionable during the late 18th century.
A mutiny of Indian soldiers employed by the Company resulted in the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and the British took over from the Company to assume direct administration over India. The popularity of painting suffered around this time following a decline in patronage and the corresponding rise in the popularity of photography, the first photographic society being founded in Bombay in 1854. Photography became the primary medium through which the British communicated Indian cultural practices to the rest of Europe and studied specimens of native fauna and flora.
“In the Company Manner” exhibits through Sept. 27. San Diego Museum of Art, 1450 El Prado, San Diego. $10 general; $8 seniors/military; $7 students; $4 children 6-17; children under 6 free; members free. (619) 232-7931.www.sdmart.org.