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Indian Art at Delhi 1903 (Being the Official Catalogue of the Delhi Exhibition 1902 - 1903)

Indian Art at Delhi 1903 (Being the Official Catalogue of the Delhi Exhibition 1902 - 1903)
Item Code: NAU235
Author: George Watt
Publisher: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
Language: ENGLISH
Edition: 1903
ISBN: 8120802780
Pages: 546 (Throughout B/W Illustrations)
Other Details: 10.00 X 7.00 inch
About the Book

Tins volume was first published as a Catalogue and Guide to the Indian Art Exhibition held at Delhi 'to coincide with the Durbar of 1902-03'. Its importance as a 'valuable book of reference' and as a 'work of scholarship' could hardly be appreciated at that time, though the author could visualize 'its possible future as a simple and practical account of the noteworthy art industries of India'. Here, in it, an attempt is made for the first time 'to associate Indian art-works in a systematic sequence, under certain classes, divisions and sections'.

The author's aim has primarily been 'to afford descriptions by which the articles might be severally identified, rather than to furnish traditions and historic details regarding them'. The volume is a unique work of documentation of nineteenth-century Indian craftsmanship.

The text is enriched with graphic representation of rare specimens of Indian artistry. Its usefulness as 'a gazetteer and an ethnographical dictionary' makes it invaluable for the students engaged in research of the history of craft and industry in India.

About the Author

GEORGE WATT joined services under Government of India. He held different posts till his retirement in 1906. He was a botanist and the author of Dictionary of the Economic Products of India. He was especially honoured and knighted for his service to the British Empire. PERCY BROWN was an artist. He joined the Mayo School of Art as its Principal, and was Curator of the Lahore Museum. He also became the Principal of the Government College of Art in Calcutta. On his retirement in 1927, he filled the post of Secretary and Curator of the Victoria and Albert Museum. He wrote several books on Mughal art and Indian architecture.


IF THE quality of an exhibition is to be judged by its catalogue, the Exhibition of Indian Art held at Delhi to coincide with the Durbar of 1902-03 must have been an exciting one. Its catalogue is a work of scholarship with a timeless quality which makes it a valuable book of reference for us. Its authors anticipated this when they visualized 'its possible future use as a simple...account of the more noteworthy art industries of India'.

Because it has the quality of a gazetteer and an ethnographical dictionary, it is appropriate that it should be reprinted, at a time when so much of the past is disappearing and is sought to be revived. This catalogue is the joint work of George Watt, and his young assistant Percy Brown. Watt was a botanist, and author of the for-midable Dictionary of the Economic Products of India. Percy Brown, who had been in India only three years, was at that time the Principal of the Mayo School of Art and Curator of the Lahore Museum. He was given the task of travelling all over the country and selecting the items for display in the exhibition. He also wrote the section on 'Fine Arts' for the catalogue, and illustrated the text with sketches of the craftsmen. The major part of the writing was done by Watt.

The Delhi Exhibition was the last manifestation of interest by the British-as imperial rulers-in Indian arts and crafts. Their concern was both to learn more about them and to make them sell. This concern had not been apparent all through the decades of their rule. In the eighteenth century a considerable amount of Indian crafts and textiles had been regularly bought by the East India Company and sold in Europe. From the early nineteenth century, however, Indian goods began to lose their markets.

They were effectively blocked from Britain by tariffs and by British middle-class taste, which was coming to the full flower of its vulgarity. In India, as more and more independent states were conquered, the rulers and upper classes could no longer afford to patronize artists and crafts-men. Bereft of patrons, they turned to other vocations. Some of them found employment in the Public Works Department, where their skills got eroded by the mechanical nature of the work. Fortunately, the traditions which wilted in British India were kept alive in some semi-autonomous states-Saurashtra, Rajasthan, Kashmir and Hyderabad.

Small wonder, then, that in the eighteen-nineties Romesh Chunder Dutt was to accuse the British of destroying India's industries without modernizing its economy. At a different level, one of the best-loved of British Indian administrators, Thomas Munro, said in 1812 that the quality of Indian goods was so high that Indians did not need to import any-thing from Europe. He also stated before a surprised House of Commons that if there were to be commerce in civilizations between India and Britain, the latter would undoubtedly be the gainer. In the seventeen-eighties Warren Hastings and William Jones had begun to systematize the British comprehension of Indian history and culture by research channelled through the Asiatic Society. Over the next fifty years, this interest was sustained by a few individuals, despite Macaulay's eloquent denigration of all Indian learning.

In the mid-nineteenth century, things looked pretty bleak. What saved Indian craftsmanship was the British passion for museums and periodic exhibitions which afforded opportunities to admire the marvels of their Industrial Revolution and of their far-flung Empire (the evocative adjective was coined by Kipling). In 1799 Charles Wilkes had carefully worked out plans for an Indian Museum, but this did not rouse much enthusiasm. Meanwhile, in the East India Company's office in London, a motley collection of items had been accumulating since the early days of empire. These were displayed in a few cluttered rooms. The biggest attraction was Tipu Sultan's mechanical tiger.

The Great Exhibition of London in 1851 was a celebration of Britain's pre-eminence as the 'Workshop of the World'. But, ironically, it was not the marvels of British industry but the Indian section which was the biggest draw. Admittedly, the crowds came more to goggle at the Kohinoor Diamond than to admire Indian craftsmanship. When Napoleon III organized an Exhibition in Paris four years later, this had an Indian section, more elaborate than that of 1851 had been-and more popular. Empress Eugenie's collection of 150 Kashmir shawls must have been the best advertisement the Kashmir weavers had had! The British understood that there was a market for Indian crafts and textiles, without risk of competition to their own products. In Britain, Indian craftsmanship became fashionable as it came to be romanticized by John Ruskin's Arts and Crafts group. Already over furnished Victorian drawing-rooms acquired a generous sprinkling of Indian knick-knacks. In the eighteen-fifties museums had been opened in India-the Indian Museum at Calcutta and the Prince of Wales Museum at Bombay. In London, in the eighteen-seventies, the collection from the Company's office was shifted to the South Kensington Museum (more generally known as the Victoria and Albert Museum). George Birdwood drew up a comprehensive catalogue (published as The Industrial Arts of India, with a long section on the Hindu Pantheon, followed by detailed descriptions of the various items on display).

This sense of the need to understand Indian handicraft traditions was reflected in the officially sponsored 'handbooks of manufactures and arts' commissioned from the different provinces, and the detailed monographs on individual arts and crafts (`Art in Industry') prepared in the eighteen-nineties.

Birdwood had lamented that people had forgotten the meaning of the word 'manufacture', connoting as it had done a product crafted by hand. Now Indian manufactures were to be revived. Schools of art were opened in Lahore and Jaipur to train young men in the 'industrial arts'. In this revival, there was a danger that quality would fall victim to the needs of the mass market. The modifications made to produce salt-cellars and tie-boxes (which Birdwood fastidiously dismissed as 'mongrel articles') could, if unchecked, • drive out the classic elements of Indian craftsmanship. In a determined effort to keep up the excellence, Lockwood Kipling, E.B. Havell and others began publishing, from 1886, the copiously illustrated Journal of Indian Industrial Art, the distinguished forerunner of Marg.

Indians are indebted to Lord Curzon for helping them to realize the wonder that was India. In his imperious manner, he declared that the best in the Indian heritage-fine art, crafts, architecture-be recognized and preserved. He invigorated the Archaeological Survey, planned the Victoria Memorial Museum, and used the Coronation Durbar of Delhi as the occasion for an Exhibition of Indian Art on a far bigger scale than anything held in India before. This Durbar, like that of 1877, and the subsequent one of 1911-12. meant that a large number of officials and princes gathered at Delhi. Curzon saw this as an opportunity to give publicity and open a market for the goods displayed at the Exhibition. The Durbar celebrations lasted twelve days (December 1902 to January 1903) and the Exhibition continued for six weeks afterwards, till the end of February. The Durbar was held in north Delhi, beyond the city and the Civil Lines. The exhibition was housed in a temporary building in the beautiful Qudsia Gardens, which divided the Civil Lines from the city. Curzon's hopes were fulfilled. Forty-eight thousand people visited the `Ajaibghar' (`The House of Wonders', the popular name for the exhibition).

Goods worth Rs. 350,000/- were sold. This was enough to silence the critics who had accused Curzon of wasting money on the Durbar. The Exhibition building was planned with an eye to convenience rather than effect, and in a manner designed to facilitate its being dismantled and the building material sold. The structure (254' x 194' was designed in the Indo-Saracenic style with ornamentation in tile-work by Punjabi potters, and fresco painting by pupils of the Mayo School of Art at Lahore.

The construction began in May 1902 and was completed in six months. The exhibition was lit by gas and open all day (it had been discussed whether it would not be a good idea to keep it open at night as well, but it was agreed that there were too many other entertainments in the evenings to make this worthwhile). At the end of the three months, the exhibition building, like all the other Durbar buildings, was dismantled and its material sold. Curzon set a lot of store by the Exhibition. He saw its objectives as manifold. It would attract visitors and buyers from India and abroad. It would enable an accurate survey of the condition of artistic industries in India, and the extent to which these had been affected by foreign competition. It would also give new ideas to the artisans. In March 1902 he had sent letters to the various provincial governments stating that the 'main test to be applied will be that of artistic merit'. 'Our object has been to encourage and revive good work, not to satisfy the requirements of the thinly-lined purse.' It was to be an exhibition of the arts only. There was no section on industrial and economic products, as there had been in previous exhibitions.

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