By William Simpson (1823-1899)
A unique print of Indian craftsmen from a set India Ancient and Modern. A Series of Illustrations of the Country and People of India and Adjacent Territories with text by Sir John William Kaye.
Published by Day & Son, London 1867.
9.5 x 13.5 ins (image size) laid down on original card.
In 1859, Simpson, who had by then made his reputation as a war artist in the Crimea, was commissioned by Day & Son to visit India and record the places affected by the momentous events of the ‘Mutiny’ of 1857. Before leaving, he spent ‘a considerable time in the library of the India House, then in Leadenhall Street, looking over books about India, such as Daniels’, to see what had been already done, and to get hints as to places I ought to visit’. The set of lithographs produced, based on his watercolours, was intended to rival David Roberts’ Holy Land in scope. However, the project never came to fruition. This was caused by the financial collapse of Day & Son, due to the rise of wood engraving. By 1866, Simpson had delivered 250 watercolours to Day & Son and these were subsequently sold off as bankrupt stock. Only 50 had been prepared as chromolithographs, and were published in 1867 as India ancient and modern. A series of illustrations of the country and people of India and adjacent territories.
For Simpson this was little consolation: ‘ So the great work on India, on which I had bestowed so much time and labour, never came into existence…’. For the remainder of his career, he worked mainly as a roving correspondent for the Illustrated London News.
Day & Son were amongst the most prominent lithographic firms of their time.They were unusual in that they were both lithographers and publishers. The art of colour lithography was raised to new heights in some of the magnificent books they published. William Simpson himself relates ‘… I knew that Day and Son were the principle lithographers in London, more particularly for artistic work, so I settled to apply to them first.’
The individual plates are rare. The British Library does not possess the complete set – arguably the most important chromolithographic illustrated work on India of the nineteenth century.