Daniells’ India | Always twilight
Scenes from 18th century India seen through the eyes of two English traveller-painters
By Somak Ghoshal
Mint, 8 June 2013
Like hundreds of their countrymen, when Thomas and William Daniell, uncle and nephew, landed in Calcutta in 1786 from the far shores of England, their eyes must have been dazzled by the intense glare of a tropical sun they had never seen before. Yet, nearly all the paintings the duo made of various towns and landscapes during their sojourns across India are suffused with a singularly melancholic glow.
In the spectacular “views” of India that the Daniells captured, it is always twilight hour, like the “always afternoon” lull that entraps the “Lotos-eaters” in Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s eponymous poem.
Was it the Daniells’ longing for home, the remembrance of dull grey English weather, that got reflected in these pale skies? How did they manage to capture that leaden heaviness overhanging the musty Indian air with such sharp intensity?
Culled from the National Archives of India and introduced by eminent art historian B.N. Goswamy, Daniells’ India: Views From the Eighteenth Century brings together a collection of exquisite aquatints by the Englishmen in a magisterial, though slightly unwieldy, volume. Chronicling the everyday life of 18th century India, these images are mesmerizing in their attention to detail, faithfully recording the grandeur of indigenous architecture alongside the gentle hum of daily life.
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