The Yale Center for British Art presents Adapting the eye. An archive of the British in India. 1770-1830 on view October 11–December 31, 2011.
Organized to complement the Center’s major fall exhibition on Johan Zoffany, who spent six productive years in India, Adapting the Eye: An Archive of the British in India, 1770–1830 will explore the complex and multifaceted networks of British and Indian professional and amateur artists, patrons, and scholars in British India in the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and their drive to create and organize knowledge for both aesthetic and political purposes. Selected from the Center’s rich holdings, and augmented with key loans from Tate Britain, the British Library, and the Yale University Art Gallery, the exhibition will include a diverse range of objects from both high art and popular culture–many of which are being exhibited for the ﬁ rst time–including albums, scrapbooks, prints, paintings, miniatures, and sculpture, demonstrating how collecting practices and artistic patronage in India at this period constituted a complex intersection of culture and power.
The starting point and central focus of the exhibition is a remarkable and little-known archive in the Center’s collection assembled by Charles Warre Malet, the East India Company’s Resident in Poona between 1785 and 1798, and the British artist James Wales. Malet’s task in India was to broker a treaty between the British and the Maratha rulers against Tipu Sultan, ruler of Mysore. After successfully concluding negotiations, he commissioned Wales to create a monumental nine-foot painting celebrating the treaty. Wales, in turn, hired assistants to make detailed preparatory studies for the picture, including the British Company soldier and draftsman Robert Mabon and the Indian painter and sculptor Gangaram Chintaman Tambat. The story of these ﬁ gures and their complex relationships is contained in the archive’s prints, drawings, and manuscripts.
The painting commemorating the treaty between the British and the Maratha rulers was never completed by Wales, who died in India in 1795. However, after Malet returned to Britain in 1798 he commissioned the artist Thomas Daniell to complete it. Adapting the Eye is the ﬁ rst occasion that the painting, now in the collection of Tate Britain, has been displayed alongside the preparatory studies, which are preserved in Malet’s archive. The exhibition also features an impression of the 1807 print engraved by Charles Turner, on loan from the British Library.
Gangaram Chintaman Tambat, a highly accomplished artist who drew on both indigenous and European artistic conventions, is a pivotal ﬁ gure in this rich cultural interchange. Far from being the stereotypical passive “Company” artist pressed into service by the British colonialists and forced to radically change his working practices to accommodate European tastes, Gangaram retained a distinctive independent artistic identity. The drawings and manuscripts in the archive suggest that a complex process of two-way exchange was taking place between the Indian and British artists working for Malet.
While engaged in their political purpose, these artists and their patrons were also immersed in collecting, sketching, and publishing information depicting their locale. The Center’s archive, which includes more than one hundred works on paper by British and Indian artists as well as manuscript materials, depicts landscapes, architectural sites, ﬂ ora and fauna, scenes from everyday life, and diplomatic ceremonial events. By juxtaposing works by these Indian artists alongside their British counterparts, Adapting the Eye will provide a unique window into central India at a critical historical moment.
Image: Tilly Kettle, Dancing Girl, 1772, oil on canvas, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.