Of the great European artists working on the Indian subcontinent in the 18th and 19th centuries, it was undoubtedly the Daniells, Thomas (1749 – 1840) and his nephew William (1769 – 1837), who played a pre-eminent role in recording and documenting the country. Their seven – year tour of India from 1786 to 1793 and the subsequent publication of their work brought to the public of Britain an unrivalled view of the scenery and architecture of this fabled and exotic land.
Arriving back in London in 1794 the Daniells turned this substantial number of on-site sketches into finished watercolours and oil paintings. On the basis of that work alone the Daniells would have secured a prominent place in history of Anglo – Indian art, but they then embarked on a grand and expensive project to translate their watercolours into print form.
The Daniells set of from England in 1786 to make their fortune in India and in their six years ventured further than any previous artist, completing three tours around India: up the Ganges from Calcutta to Sringar, 1788 – 91, a circular tour around Mysore from Madras, 1792 – 93, and finally on their return journey to England in 1793 visiting Bombay and its sites, sketching and drawing as they travelled.
Arriving back in London in 1794 the Daniells turned this substantial number of on-site sketches into finished watercolours and oil paintings. On the basis of that work alone the Daniells would have secured a prominent place in history of Anglo – Indian art, but they then embarked on a grand and expensive project to translate their watercolours into print form. From 1795 to 1808 they concentrated on producing aquatint prints for their views of India, a work they titled Oriental Scenery (of which we have four plates:
- Hindoo Temples at Bindrabund on the River Jumna;
- The Mausoleum of Amir Khusero at the ancient city of Delhi;
- Gate of the Loll-Baug at Fyzabad;
- North East View of the Cotsea Bhaug on the River Jumna, Delhi).
The work was sold in parts as group of plates, allowing subscribers to pay for the venture over a long period, and also giving the Daniells an on-going finance for their copper plates, paper and team of engravers. Through exhibitions of their oil paintings at the Royal Academy and British Institution in London in the early 1800s they captured the attention and interest of the British public, focusing on this distant part of what later became the British Empire. By 1808 the selection of aquatint views had been completed, to be bound in six volumes with a total of 144 plates, the hand coloured aquatints capturing the subtlety of the watercolour, the dusky and bright tones of the colourists bringing to life the scenery and architecture of India.
For further reading on the Daniells and their aquatints of India see Mildred Archer’s work, Early Views of India: The Pictoresque Views o Thomas and William Daniell, 1786 – 1794, London, 1980.