Established as a commercial interest in the seventeenth century, the British East India Company has become a military force by the nineteenth. A 1799 victory over Tipu Sultan of Mysore (r. 1782–99) propels further conquests in this period, and the company expands its control into Sind, Punjab, Oudh, and Burma. In each new territory, the company appoints puppet princes to govern and so a weakened Mughal dynasty survives in Delhi. Not all of the native population is willing to cooperate, however, and the company faces a deadly uprising in 1857 that they term the Sepoy Mutiny, but that the Indians consider the first battle for independence. After this incident, the East India Company is abolished and British monarchy takes over direct control of India. It becomes a colony of the empire in 1858.
While political tensions run high in this period, the arts provide a mechanism for interaction between the British and Indian population. The Company School of painting emerges in response to British demand for paintings of local people and monuments, and the art of the Indian courts takes on an eclectic, European-influenced character. Photography, introduced to India a year after its invention in France, becomes a popular medium for both Indian and British artists working in the country. However, colonial and indigenous photography significantly diverges in its aims. Indian photographers working for Indian patrons create a thriving business in portraiture. Some of these portraits are painted with bright, decorative colors, making them less like photographs than miniatures. For the British, photography becomes a tool to classify and comprehend the people they rule, while preserving ways of life their rule threatens to transform. In architecture, the century is one that favors hybridity: amalgams of Victorian and Indian motifs, or Hindu and Muslim motifs within a single building. Paintings continue to be made for some rulers of Rajput courts.
Concerned about the effects of industrialization on British craftsmanship, the British open art schools in Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras that are designed to protect Indian craft traditions. Contradictorily, these offer drawing from nature and attempt to cultivate Indian taste in Western ideals. The schools graduate a new generation of middle- and upper-class artists who find patronage primarily in portraiture and copies of Western masterpieces.
Art salons provide a space for British artists working in India to show their work. These increasingly feature Indian artists as well, who find in them a new path to success. The salons generate a public discourse around art and attract elite Indian patronage. Exemplary of India’s new salon artists is Raja Ravi Varma (1848–1906). An aristocrat widely hailed as a genius, he is acclaimed for his naturalistic portrayals of the Indian elite and of Indian mythology and history. His career is a far cry from that of India’s remaining court artists who—as they have for centuries—work for small sums, and receive little or no public recognition. Varma opens a printing press with his brother, and popularizes his work through print media. His prints strongly shape the popular taste of the coming century.
India’s royal courts, which enjoy internal autonomy under British rule, continue to patronize traditional court painting. In the early decades of the century, a few regional court styles see considerable stylistic innovation. In Rajasthan, several court traditions gravitate toward extreme stylization and fantastic coloration to answer an aesthetics of Krishna worship. Over time, however, traditional idioms accommodate more Western fashions adopting greater chiaroscuro, intuitive perspective, and naturalistic proportions than had previously been favored.
Concerned about Russian expansion, the British begin to explore relations with the Himalayan countries of Bhutan, Nepal, and Tibet. Nepal loses territory in the Anglo-Nepalese War of 1814–16. Meanwhile, the British send missions to Bhutan, but relations sour. Following the Duar War of 1864–65, Bhutan cedes land to the British in the mountains of Assam and Bengal.
Tibet remains closed to outsiders during the nineteenth century, but the British send spies from India. China’s Manchu dynasty weakens and cannot protect Tibet or interfere with it. As a consequence, the country becomes virtually autonomous, though it formally recognizes Chinese sovereignty. Tibet asks for assistance from China in its wars with Ladakh in 1842 and Nepal in 1858, but receives none.
Technically very polished, nineteenth-century Tibetan painting contains many Chinese inspirations as well as Indian elements from Mughal painting. Regional painting styles are much less distinct and are harder to identify than in previous centuries. They mostly claim descent from the Menri (or sMan-ris) traditions. Paintings illustrating monastic lineages continue to be popular, as are Pure Land paintings, which depict the realms of the Buddhas from a high vantage point. There is greater naturalism in the depiction of landscapes and figures, but the worlds represented are clearly ideal, divine realms. Sculpture is also more naturalistic, though it is deliberately mannered.
English artists Thomas and William Daniell publish Oriental Scenery, a collection of aquatints based on their many tours through India.
The India Museum opens in London; it later expands into the India Office Library and is charged with collecting manufactures and natural products of India. Interest in Indian art increases, and the future king George IV commissions the architect John Nash (1752–1835) to finish a pavilion at Brighton with Eastern architectural flourishes. He uses Oriental Scenery for inspiration.
Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) becomes a colony of the British crown.
The British defeat two sets of tribal entities, the Marathas in northern India and the Ghorkas in Nepal, and then march on to Burma and the Sind, which are annexed in 1823 and 1843 respectively.
The Indian Museum for art and natural sciences is established in Calcutta by the Asiatic Society, Bengal.
The reign of Ghazi-ud-Din Haidar in Oudh typifies that of many princes who rule in the early nineteenth century. Many Europeans can be found at his court in Lucknow, some who are invited as military advisors or court artists and others who have settled in the area for business opportunities. While Haidar assumes European dress and builds a Neoclassical pavilion in his palace, many Europeans adopt native clothing and take Indian wives.
The Ajanta caves, covered with beautifully preserved Buddhist murals, are discovered.
The Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland is founded.
The Anglo-Sikh Wars are concluded with the British annexation of the province of Punjab in 1849. The British then take lower Burma in 1852 and Oudh in 1856, which gives them control over two-thirds of the subcontinent.
The Great Exhibition of 1851 in London arouses intense criticism of British industrial design, while bringing the virtues of Indian design to wider attention. Discussion begins on ways to reverse the deleterious effects of British mass production on Indian craftsmanship.
The Government Museum is established in Madras. A “Central Museum,” it has a number of South Indian branches.
Schools of art are opened in Madras, Bombay, and Calcutta in order to impart principles of British aesthetics to Indian students, though debates in the 1870s and 1880s on the declining state of Indian craftsmanship lead to token attempts to teach the traditional arts. Among the more successful graduates of the schools is Raja Ravi Varma (1848–1906), a painter who works in oil.
The Photographic Society of Bombay is founded, signaling the importance of this new medium in India.
India’s first three universities open in Calcutta, Madras, and Bombay.
Indian soldiers in the service of the British revolt against the foreign rulers; hundreds die as the Indians reclaim control of Delhi and Lucknow. Independence lasts only a few months as British forces backed by Sikh soldiers retake the cities, and then exile Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah II (1775–1862) to Burma. As a result of the disturbances, the East India Company loses its right to govern and in 1858 India comes under direct control of the British crown. Following the revolt, the British destroy significant Indian monuments, particularly in Delhi, where much of the old city is paved over or razed to be replaced with British structures.
The last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, dies in exile in Rangoon.
A number of museums open in India: in Lucknow, Nagpur, Lahore, and Bangalore.
The eight-volume People of India is published by the government of India. It uses photography to classify and comprehend the Indian population.
The Archaeological Survey of India is established to record and preserve India’s important monuments.
Britain’s imperial government conducts the first census of India.
The Victoria and Albert Museum opens in Bombay.
The stupa at Barhut is uncovered.
The National College of Arts (initially called the Mayo School) is founded in Lahore.
Queen Victoria is crowned empress of India. Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817—1898) opens the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College at Aligarh, where courses in Western sciences and Islamic thought are taught in English.
The Victoria Terminus in Bombay is constructed, designed by Frederick W. Stevens as the headquarters for the Great Indian Peninsula Railway.
The Indian National Congress is formed in Bombay. Delegates are divided among those who desire reform but want to remain part of the British empire, and those who want total independence for India. With the 1905 partition of Bengal, seen as Britain’s attempt to divide Hindus and Muslims, the latter position gains favor—swaraj, or self-rule, becomes the goal of all activists.
Museums open at Trichur, Udaipur, Bhopal, Madras, Rajkot, Pune, and Lahore.
Dadabhai Naoroji (1825–1917) is the first Indian to sit in the British House of Commons.
“South Asia and the Himalayan Region, 1800–1900 A.D.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ht/?period=10®ion=ssa (October 2004)