G C Lichtenberg: “It is as if our languages were confounded: when we want a thought, they bring us a word; when we ask for a word, they give us a dash; and when we expect a dash, there comes a piece of bawdy.”

H. P. Lovecraft: "What a man does for pay is of little significance. What he is, as a sensitive instrument responsive to the world's beauty, is everything!"

Martin Amis: “Gogol is funny, Tolstoy in his merciless clarity is funny, and Dostoyevsky, funnily enough, is very funny indeed; moreover, the final generation of Russian literature, before it was destroyed by Lenin and Stalin, remained emphatically comic — Bunin, Bely, Bulgakov, Zamyatin. The novel is comic because life is comic (until the inevitable tragedy of the fifth act);...”

Werner Herzog: “We are surrounded by worn-out, banal, useless and exhausted images, limping and dragging themselves behind the rest of our cultural evolution.”

John Gray: "Unlike Schopenhauer, who lamented the human lot, Leopardi believed that the best response to life is laughter. What fascinated Schopenhauer, along with many later writers, was Leopardi’s insistence that illusion is necessary to human happiness."

Justin E.H. Smith: “One should of course take seriously serious efforts to improve society. But when these efforts fail, in whole or in part, it is only humor that offers redemption. So far, human expectations have always been strained, and have always come, give or take a bit, to nothing. In this respect reality itself has the form of a joke, and humor the force of truth.”

विलास सारंग: "… . . 1000 नंतर ज्या प्रकारची संस्कृती रुढ झाली , त्यामध्ये साधारणत्व विश्वात्मकता हे गुण प्राय: लुप्त झाले...आपली संस्कृती अकाली विश्वात्मक साधारणतेला मुकली आहे."

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Perhaps Beautiful but Surely A Fraud: Thomas Daniell’s Painting of Peshwa Court

William Dalrymple has written a wonderful essay “Moor The Collector” for Outlook (September 17, 2007).

WD writes: “In 1805, a young scholar-official of the East India Company was invalided home to Suffolk at the age of only 35. Edward Moor had first come out to India at the age of 11, spoke several Indian languages, and was passionately interested in the cosmology and beliefs of the Hindus.

Now, with time on his hands in an unfamiliar country he hardly remembered, Moor filled his time by gathering together and organising the artistic, anthropological and textual materials he had been collecting for many years on the deities and images of Hinduism. Five years later, in 1810, he finally published his masterwork, The Hindu Pantheon. Moor's book immediately established itself as the most detailed and accurate attempt yet made by any European scholar to collate and compare the textual and artistic material on Hinduism.

Before Moor, British scholars in India had managed to write some quite amazing nonsense about the Hindus and their religious practices…

Moor's work on Hindu deities was not superseded for 80 years and remained in print for over a century; yet today he is remembered less for his scholarship than for the remarkable Indian paintings, miniatures and artworks he commissioned and collected as part of his research. These consisted of over 640 items of Hindu painting and sculpture, with a special emphasis on the varying iconographies of the different deities.”

Indeed 18th-19th century India-centric art has largely remained unsung and inaccessible. The art is not just about aesthetics but it's history talking to us directly, without any lousy interpreters.

One of the major events in Indian history was the treaty that brought Nizam, Marathas and British together against Tipu Sultan. There is a much-hailed painting by Thomas Daniell (1749-1840) depicting the event. At the end of this post, you may see a copy of the painting. The picture also finds a mention in Edward Moor’s “The Hindu Pantheon”. Moor lived in Pune for many years.

The painting is described as: ‘A representation of the delivery of the Ratified Treaty of’ ‘1790 by Sir Charles Warre Malet Bt. to his Highness Souae Madarow Peshwa in full’ ‘Durbar or Court as held upon that occasion at Poonah in the East Indies on’ ‘the 6th Aug 1790’

Based on Dr. V D Divekar’s article in Bharat Itihas Sanshodhan Mandal' (भारत इतिहास संशोधन मंडळ) journal, historian, painter, art-critic the late D G Godse द ग गोडसे wrote a memorable essay ['Ek Darbar Chitra ani Charitra' (एक दरबारचित्र आणि चरित्र) included in his book ‘Samande Talash’ Shreevidya Prakashan 1981) on this painting. It’s a fascinating read and proves why they say a picture is worth a thousand words.

Godse proves that this picture is a fraud!

This painting was initially wrongly attributed to James Wales (1747-1795). Wales came to Pune and even taught at an art school there. The school created some notable painters like Gangaram Chintaman Navgire-Tambat (गंगाराम चिंतामण नवगिरे-तांबट) and sculptors like Bakhatram. Malet has praised Gangaram’s work and some of Gangaram’s work is still preserved in Malet’s estate. But Wales came to Pune only in 1791, a year after the event depicted in the painting and died at Thane in 1795.

The painting was finally correctly attributed to Thomas Daniell who probably never ever came to Pune! Daniell painted it circa 1805, not in India but back in England. In 1790, Daniell was traveling some where in Andhra Pradesh.

Godse has picked many holes in the painting.

He points out that first it was Edward Moor who noticed the difference between Ganesh Mahal in the picture and the one Moor actually saw. Cows in the painting look European. Mythical daemons depicted look foreign, like Satan. Headgears worn by Peshwa and others look Saxon. Putting flowerpot was not a practice of the time etc. etc.

Maratha officers used to sit to the right of the Peshwa unlike in the painting where they are shown sitting on the left. Crowd present in the court is poorly depicted. Most of them don’t look like Maharashtrians.

And the biggest faux pass of Daniell is that the painting shows visiting British have not just NOT removed their shoes as was customary but are exposing their bottom of their shoes to the Peshwa, an extreme act of profanation.

How bad the insult would have been?

Almost 116 years later, on CNN Larry King Live, I heard Bill Richardson, Governor of New Mexico and aspiring Democratic Party (United States) presidential nominee, telling with glee his famous story of meeting with Saddam Hussein and insulting him by showing him the bottom of his shoe.

Malet despised Marathas but was surely not as foolish (and boorish?) as Richardson to do this! Or was it his way of venting out his frustrations- of not getting governorship of Bombay- on Marathas 15 years after the event when he was safely away in England?!

Artist: Thomas Daniell, commissioned by Sir Charles Malet circa 1805

courtesy: Tate Gallery and Wikimedia Commons

In September 2007, I invited Mr. Dalrymple to visit this post.

His reply on September 24 2007 in an e-mail: "Its a fascinating piece- well done! W")