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India of the 1800s comes alive

Staff Reporter
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Works of American artist Edwin Lord Weeks up on display

Colourful Flashback: A vivid depiction of life in Banaras by artist Edwin Lord Weeks.
Colourful Flashback: A vivid depiction of life in Banaras by artist Edwin Lord Weeks.

In the India of the late 1800s, a princess listens as a storyteller narrates tales of wonder, life bustles along the holy river in Banaras even as a king's party prepares to leave for the hunt…. these stories and more come to life through the works of Edwin Lord Weeks.

The Hubris Foundation and the American Center have put together an exhibition of paintings of the American artist, which opened here on Wednesday. On display are the museum archival giclées of Mr. Weeks' paintings of Delhi, Rajasthan, Lahore, Banaras, Amritsar, Agra and other parts of India of the 1880s.

Speaking about the artist, Hubris Foundation founder Gautam Srivastav said: “[His] paintings of India are revered in the West and hang in the leading museums of the world but have never been exhibited in India.”

One of the most celebrated American Orientalists, Mr. Weeks made three lengthy trips to India during the time of the British Raj in the late 1800s and captured the banality and splendour of its life. His paintings are unique in their sensitive rendering of light and architectural accuracy of that time.

“Many people do not know about Weeks. He was an adventurous soul, but most of his work is housed in the US… and most of it never came back,” said American Center director Anne Lee Sesahdri.

Mr. Weeks was a pupil of Léon Bonnat and Jean-Léon Gérôme at Paris. This is the first time his works, which find a prominent place in museums in the West, are being exhibited in India.

Mr. Srivastav, an art enthusiast who plans to “research, exhibit and explain” Western art to India through his non-profit organisation, said the exhibition was an attempt to introduce Mr. Weeks and his representation of India of a bygone era.

Most of the works were sketched by the artist in India and compiled in Paris, even though there have been suggestions that he used photographs as reference. “There is no evidence of photographs,” said Mr. Srivastav, adding that though the camera had been invented by this period, it was highly unlikely that the artist would carry the huge contraption through such a long journey.

The effect produced, though, is almost life-like and offer a wonderful insight into India's past. The exhibition will be on view up to February 4.


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