wiki:Company School Painting

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Company School Painting

An 18th and 19th C. painting style geared to the British presence. According to Mildred Archer, ‘the favourite subjects were costumes, methods of transport and festivals, [H]indu deities and temples. Such subjects, arranged in sets, provided a conspectus of social life in India and, whether harsh and garish in the South or mild and soft as in the North East, the pictures recorded in pseudo-British terms the exotic environment in which [East India] Company officers and their successors lived. In these sets, each trade, craft or occupation was shown with identifying attributes - a bricklayer with measure and trowel, a shoemaker with awl and shoe, a cook with chicken and kettle’ (Archer, 1977). Guha-Thakurta (1992) noted that with the dwindling of court patronage, court painters became reduced to the state of bazaar painters, ‘a new colonial category that underlined their displacement and forced in an open market. European paintings and engravings of Indian scenes began to be supplanted, more cheaply and abundantly, by the pictures produced by this pool of displaced artists. In commissioning pictures from these “bazaar” painters, the British preferred those with hereditary links with old painting ateliers. Yet the skills of these miniature artists were valued primarily for their adaptability to Western naturalistic conventions and the flair for precision and detail in the pictures and diagrams ordered of them.’From the middle of the 18th C., numerous British artists, both professional (the best known are William Hodges, Tilly Kettle, George Chinnery and John Zoffany) and sketch-book amateurs recorded scenes from India. Some of them were in the employ of Indian nobility and trained or otherwise influenced Indian artists, while numerous others simply imitated the style. The Company School mode, which usually functioned as a cheaper and barely legitimate version of European naturalism, established an influential visual lexicon of stereotypes used for a variety of purposes: parodies of the British and Indian gentry, local fashion primers, visual anthropology and some of the earliest examples of the mythological iconography later adopted by the cinema. Early documentaries in India, e.g. Bourne & Shepherd’s actuality and review films, F.B. Thanawala’s Splendid New Views of Bombay (1899) and Taboot Procession at Kalbadevi (1900) as well as footage bought for c.10 cents to a dollar per foot by e.g. the Pathé Exchange, International Newsreel Corp. and Fox Films, inherited the disingenuous Orientalism of the Company School painters once Parsee businessmen, the Indian aristocracy and British multinationals like Warwick Trading in Calcutta (Panorama of Calcutta, 1898) shifted their patronage to film production.