Discovering the Orient: Thomas and William Daniell

Discovering the Orient: Thomas and William Daniell

By Brijeshwari Gohil

Before the advent of photography and the ease of hopping onto a flight, traveller accounts through writing and sketching were the only form of documentation. The Orientalists would sketch and paint the East. The elaborate landscapes, intricate architecture, colourful attire, ornate jewellery. These paintings would become the way the West viewed the East. Exotic, with a sense of mystique and curiosity.

During this time, the uncle and nephew duo, Thomas and William Daniell arrived in Calcutta (now Kolkata) by sea. Never would they have fathomed the impact their art would have and the legacy they would have left behind.

From 1786 to 1796, they travelled the length and breadth of the country. From Calcutta in the East, Madras and Mysore in the South, covering the verdant valleys of North India and the Majestic Himalayas and arriving at Bombay in the West. No stone was left unturned, no region unexplored.  Seven years of sketches and paintings eventually led to one-fifty pages and six volumes of aquatint prints titled, ‘Oriental Scenery.’

The very first plate of the exquisite compilation, ‘Eastern Gate of the Jummah Masjid at Delhi’, part of the upcoming auction (Lot no. 362). The masjid, was one of the last monuments built during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. Erected over a hundred years before the Daniell’s stepped foot in India, Jummah Masjid continues to stand resilient even today.

Thomas Daniell creates a beautiful composition, detailing the architectural marvel with intricate lines and a tinge of red, true to the red sandstone of the monument. He depicts tiny figures parading across in what looks like a royal entourage. Horses at the beginning, soldiers flanked on both sides, elephants with a howdah (a royal seat), comfortably mounted on the elephant. Protected by a beautiful umbrella, amidst what may have been a hot, summer day. Several architectural marvels were built during the Mughal era.

The Daniell duo seem to have covered a number of these ranging from Delhi’s Masjid to the exquisite Taj Mahal of Agra. Lot no. 361, ‘The Taje Mahel, at Agra’, is another beautiful hand coloured aquatint. Thomas Daniel does justice to the expanse of the area surrounding Taj, giving prominence to the red sandstone entrance gate. He draws the Taj Mahal in a distant horizon, making it seem like a dream amidst clouds. Perhaps the aim was to focus on the gate, given its similarity in design and style to Jummah Masjid in Delhi. Or to bring across the yearning for love lost. The sentiment on which, Taj Mahal was built?

These rare hand coloured works of art are a documentation of history and culture, where time seems to stand still.

By Brijeshwari  Gohil 

 To view all of the Indian, Islamic, Himalayan and South East Asian Works of Art auction, click here