We might think of landscape as the most obvious and natural subject for painting. What could be simpler than an artistic response to the world of nature? And yet, civilisations have not always produced landscape paintings. Landscape as an independent genre—with the primary focus not on action but on scenery—was first championed by the Chinese in the ninth century. It was introduced into English art only in the eighteenth century. Elements of nature have appeared in Indian art since the murals of Ajanta, but in supporting roles, in images that are primarily sacred or courtly. Pure landscape painting arose in India only in the nineteenth century, in response to colonial practice.
This exhibition looks at landscape painting in India over a period of two hundred years, from 1780 to 1980. We start with English artists who travelled in India from the late eighteenth century onwards, to rediscover what they were looking for, and how they saw what they found. The introduction of new materials, and the teaching of new methods in the art schools from the middle of the nineteenth century, encouraged some Indian artists to adopt similar approaches. While mastering an academic style, they learned to view their country, in part, through Western eyes. Later, in the twentieth century, a reaction set in, as Indian artists sought new modes of expression. As if by reclaiming their patrimony and the right to represent it, they invented a glorious array of new landscape styles.
The visual story that this exhibition unfolds goes from an imposed colonial gaze, through Indian accommodation and adjustment, to rejection, and the profusion of new forms of imagery, rooted in the land. The parallel with the course of the freedom movement is no coincidence, as artists react to the conditions and events of their times. Landscape artists are acutely alert not only to time but to space, finding ever new ways to depict the land on which they stand, even as the control of it is reclaimed.