A Southern odyssey

Artwork on display at Dakshinapatha Photo: V. Ganesan

Artwork on display at Dakshinapatha Photo: V. Ganesan

This is art tilled from the soil of South India. A collection of aquatints, engravings and lithographs by some of the most brilliant illustrators to chronicle the India of the late 1700s upto the mid-1800s, the ongoing show at Gallery Veda is curated by well-known art advisor and auctioneer, Angira Arya.

Preeti Garg, director of the gallery, says, “To celebrate the third anniversary, we put together this unusual show — probably the first time such an art collection has been exhibited in the city. It will appeal to the lover of history, especially people from the Southern states. These works hold a mirror to how society, religion and architecture were in these parts two centuries ago, and the quiet grandeur with which life has been portrayed will draw anyone in. We’ve invited schools and colleges to introduce students to this part of our heritage.”

A couple of days ahead of the opening, the gallery’s stark white walls are filled with rectangles of rare prints, some in colours so gem-like, others in vivid black and white. There are maps of South India during Company rule, with their exotic spellings of well-known towns — Wandiwash, Tanjore and Madura; remote hill forts and views of the Salem plains across the green acres from Yercaud; the long-boned fisherfolk of the Coromandel coast and iconic buildings of the Raj that have stood the test of time.

(Artwork on display at Dakshinapatha Photo: V. Ganesan)

Arya stands beside Robert Ker Porter’s painting of The Storming of Seringapatam that occupies an entire wall as it did at the Lyceum, London, when the Scottish traveller, artist and diplomat first painted it on a 120-ft canvas in 1800. The hot and bloody fight, breach of the fort, stealth of the redcoats and Tipu’s men, capture of the sultan’s tiger-mouthed cannon, round-eyed anxiety of the soldiers racing up the hill, groans of the dying, brown outlines of the mosque and temple in the distance and the stipple engravings in the background are so captivating that any viewer would pause at length to study this ageing print. “We wanted to do something grand, something on India, but engravings of North India, especially Bengal, have been seen in plenty. Works set in the South have stayed largely unexposed, and we felt the need for history to be both visual and dramatic,” says Arya, who took a mere two months to put together this 192-piece show.

(Artwork on display at Dakshinapatha Photo: V. Ganesan)

Mumbai-based Arya was among India’s first to conduct auctions in the country, and has worked with big brand houses such as Osian’s for both commercial as well as charity auctions, after years of being a management consultant. Says the founder-director of iCanvas, an auction house, “Indians, by nature, are hoarders. Art in private collections is valued highly and should be brought into public spaces. Dakshinapatha is a chance for the common man to identify with his history, and own a piece of it at an affordable price {from Rs. 10,000 onwards}.”

(Artwork on display at Dakshinapatha Photo: V. Ganesan)

Indian art of the period represented what the mind rather than the eye saw, and hence tended to be exaggerated. These artworks by both Indophiles and recorders of the Raj are probably the first accurate portrayals of life in India. These ethnographers — armymen, painters, princes and botanists such as Thomas Anburey, Edward Orme, Lt. Col. Douglas Hamilton, James Fergusson, Capt. Peacock and others — filled albums with more than the idea of India in its sepia hour of cow dust. Russian prince Alex Soltykoff’s temple procession is not just about a public spectacle of dancers and deities; it is a study in caste and clothing. Henry Salt’s Pagoda at Tanjore takes in the tilting plane of the land and the gopuram of the Brihadeeswara temple lancing a pearl-grey sky. The renowned Thomas and William Daniell’s works, defined by light, are a dizzying journey through monuments that the Raj erected, such as The Government House at Fort St. George, where every colonnade and every common man is drawn to scale. They were among the first to give Britain a glimpse of life in the subcontinent. Mather Brown’s Lord Cornwallis Receiving The Sons of Tipu as Hostages has an air of poignancy. Nathaniel Wallich’s detailed pictures of flora, quaint books on musical instruments and religious iconography by Rodrigues take us back to an India that has long passed into the pages of a history book.

Dakshinapatha is on view at Gallery Veda, Rutland Gate 5th Street, Srirampuram, Thousand Lights, till November 25. For details, call 4309 0422.

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Printable version | Sep 21, 2022 2:58:06 am |