Portfolio - Company Period

Portfolio - Company Period

Product ID: 25254

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Author: Pran Nevile
Several artistes/
Publisher: National Gallery of Modern Art
Year: 2009
Language: English
Pages: 6
ISBN/UPC (if available): N/A


The 18th and 19th century India witnessed a new genre of painting popularly known as “Company School’, so named because it emerged primarily under the patronage of the British East India Company. The interest of the Company was in paintings that could capture the “picturesque” and the “exotic’ aspect of the land, besides recording the variety in the Indian way of life which they encountered. Indian artists of that time, facing declining traditional patronage, fulfilled the growing demand for paintings of flora and fauna, landscapes, monuments, durbar scenes, image of native rulers, trades and occupations, festivals, ceremonies, dance, music as well as portraits.

The Company School painting display an amalgam of naturalistic representation and the lingering nostalgia for the intimacy and stylization of medieval Indian miniatures. It is this intermingling that makes the Company school so unique even though the paintings neither had the accuracy of the photograph nor the freedom of the miniatures. The artists of this School modified their technique to cater to the British taste for academic realism which required the incorporation of western academic principles of art such as a close representation of visual reality, perspective, volume and shading. The artists also changed their medium and now began to paint with watercolour (instead of gouache) and also used pencil or sepia wash on European paper.

‘Company Paintings’ were first produced in Madras Presidency in South India, and soon disseminated to other parts of India such as Calcutta, Murshidabad, Patna, Benares, Lucknow, Agra, Delhi, Punjab and centers in Western India. The Introduction of photography in 1840, however, brought about a new dimension to the paintings, emphasizing now on capturing “objective reality”.

The Portrait of Nawab Amjad Ali Shah is an attempt to integrate the pictorial elements of two distinct traditions to cater to contemporary tastes. The endeavor to introduce realism through shading, chiaroscuro and perspective is somewhat naïve. The traditional format in composition as well as the love of meticulous detail continues from earlier indigenous traditions. The nawabs of Lucknow were among some of the first to readily adopt British social conventions. The nawabi tastes for British accoutrements are reflected in Amjad Ali Shah’s European robes and crown.

BIRD (Acc. No. 2149)
In this painting of flora and fauna, the heightened naturalism of a beautiful coppersmith, perched on the branch of a flowering tree, has been skillfully captured. There is a sense of spontaneity, swiftness and freedom, in the lines of the flowering tree. The use of stippling in the body brings out its volume in an endearing manner. In delightful contrast to the naturalistic rendering of the bird, the branch of the flowering tree is stylized.

UNTITLED (Acc. No. 2353)
In a captivating portrait, the royal grandeur of a noble-man has been skillfully represented through his regal attire and exquisite jewellery. Portrayed with a dignified expression and a serious gaze, the subdued colour palette and heightened naturalism is in tune with the British love for academic realism. The religious affiliation of the noble-man is indicated by the mark over his forehead distinguishing him as a devotee of Lord Shiva (Saivas). The British were fascinated with the ethnographic diversity of India, especially the many castes and professions which formed an important part of the repertoire of Company Paintings.

The portrait of Jayaji Rao Scindia displays the artist’s roots in the tradition of Rajput miniature painting. This can be seen in the compositional arrangement, use of flat planes of colour and the centralized positioning of Jayaji Rao Scindia. The painting is symbolic of the local artist’s attempt at a degree of realism that was emphasized during the Company period. It is this juxtaposition of indigenous traditions and the new artistic impetus that results in the formation of a quasi-realism that is typical of the Company school.

The work representing a young Prince captures the immediacy of the photograph along with the nuances of painting, reflecting the changing needs and requirements of the time. The overall effect is of elegance and coveys an effortless ease. With the advent of the photography in the 1840’s there was a growing demand for paintings imitating the setting of the photo studio. Such paintings became status symbols among the Indian aristocracy and bourgeoisie who sought social advancement under British rule.

A native surveyor and his attendant are seen against a meticulously rendered backdrop representing a colonial interior. In order to understand the topography of India the Company appointed a number of surveyors to document monuments, specifics of a place, prepare maps and define boundaries of a territory, while the accompanying artists recorded the people and culture of India. In this painting, the harmonious co-existence of the ideals of two distinct cultures can clearly be seen. While the objects (Such as the chair etc.) are European, the painting continues the traditional Indian miniaturists’ love for surface decoration.