Company School of Paintings

Meaning & Origin of Company School of Paintings

During the later part of the 18th century, the British East India Company had firmly established its political dominion in India. A large number of employees of the East India Company arrived in India and as they accommodate themselves here, they came across the vivid indigenous culture and life.

They wanted to capture the images to send or take back home and thus they gradually became the new patrons of the Indian art.

These new patrons wanted that the artists depict Indian life and scenes but in a medium of their own liking. Thus, a synthetic style was born in which the Indian artists imitated the English style of paintings. The first region in India to saw the emergence of such style was the Madras Presidency. The work accomplished by the Indian artists was in a European style and palette, and this new Indo-European genre of painting known as the Company Style. In Hindi, it is called Kampani Kalam.

The British set up schools in the major cities such as Bombay, Calcutta and Madras in order to train the Indian artists in Western Techniques. Artists, who graduated from these schools and / or those who deployed the techniques taught in these schools, were called Company School artists.

Salient Features

  • Company style is a hybrid Indo-European style of paintings.
  • Combination of traditional elements from Rajput and Mughal painting blended with Western treatment. .
  • Paintings reflecting the Indian miniature tradition were usually small while those portraying the natural history paintings of plants and birds were significantly large.

Subjects

The subjects included:

  • Landscapes and views of nature
  • Monuments – The Delhi paintings specially had mughal monuments as subject matter.
  • Indian People, dancers, fairs and festivals and costumes.
  • Figures of different castes and trades.

Architectural subjects: Usually done in a detailed and frontal style more like that of an architectural draftsman than the Romanticised style used by most European painters visiting India.

  • Some animal or plant subjects
  • Some erotic subjects also included.

Techniques

  • The technique varied but mostly was drawn upon western water colour technique, from which “transparency of texture, soft tones and modelling in broad strokes” were borrowed from west.
  • Paper was mostly used for these paintings. Ivory was also used.
  • They were mostly intended to be kept in portfolios or albums; the muraqqa or album was very well established among Indian collectors, though usually including calligraphy as well, as least in Muslim examples.

Growth of the style

  • First region to produce what is called Company Painting to cater to the tastes of the westerners and of Indians who were acquiring these tastes was the Madras Presidency. Moreover, the Tanjore artists were the first to experiment with the new style.
  • At the same time, as the political clout of East India Company grew, a number of centres arose; each of them was heavily influenced by the local traditions.
  • The most important early production centre was Calcutta. Here the main patrons of the art were Lord Impey (Chief justice of the High Court) and Lord Wellesley (Governor General). We have been told that they were especially interested in the animal and plant life. They hired artists to paint the birds and animals including those at the Botanical Garden at Calcutta. By the time Wellesley retired in 1813, some 2,542 paintings had been assembled!
Major Centres

Apart from Calcutta and Madras, the other major centres were Patna, Benaras and later Delhi. The subjects of the Delhi paintings were the splendid Mughal monuments. Delhi company style painting is also special as the artists here used the Ivory as base for paintings.

Famous Artists:

  • Sewak Ram (c. 1770-c. 1830): Sewak Ram was a well established Company Painter in Patna. Its worth note that some other prominent artists such as Shiv Lal, Hulas Lal, Jhoomak Lal, Fakir Chand and Jai Ram Das lived in Patna and they had such a fame that some people call their paintings belonging to the Patna School! However, calling it a Patna School was incorrect for many others. Patna was a great centre of the Company Paintings because it hosted many expatriates of the East India Company due to location of an important factory as well as Provincial Committee.
  • Ghulam Ali Khan: The latter Delhi genre of Company paintings is represented in the work of artist Ghulam Ali Khan and his colleagues. He is known for various scenes of village life. He and his team were masters in making portraits.

Decline

The company style of paintings was not a Pan-India phenomenon. This style developed in some cities only which had any of the following qualities:

  • These cities had monuments and an inflow of foreign officials or tourists
  • These cities had expatriates from England.

The above statement implies that the Company Style did not develop in regions such as Rajasthan, Punjab Hills and Hyderabad which were home to the local traditions. St the same time, it can not be negated that the influence of British colonialism had profound impact on Indian arts which was visible in the deterioration of the above painting styles. In the early nineteenth century, this art was at its peak and its production was at a considerable level, with many of the cheaper paintings being copied by rote. By third and fourth decades of 19th century, many artists had shops to sell the work and workshops to produce it.

However, later, the style was subject to the competition with other styles and photography. The worst blow to the Company Style Paintings was given by the advent of Photography in early 1840s. But, the style did survive till 20th century. Ishwari Prasad
(Patna), who died in 1950, is believed to be the last notable exponent of Company Style Paintings.

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