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Oriental Scenery
Thomas Daniell R.A and William Daniell R. A.

Daniell's Art Show


Oriental Scenery - Paintings by Daniells

'Oriental Scenery' is the title given to the monumental six-volume work of 144 hand-coloured aquatint engravings made by Thomas Daniell (36) and his nephew William, a lad of sixteen, from a selection of their drawings produced in India. These publications introduced many of India's most famous buildings and sites to the European Public. While the Daniells would probably have chosen to be remembered for their oil paintings, it is the volumes of Oriental Scenery, which secured their artistic reputation.

The Daniells' Oriental Scenery is "the finest illustrated work on India" (Tooley). Daniells spent nine years in India making studies, sketches and drawings of the scenery, architecture and antiquities, and then devoted a further thirteen years back in their country from 1794, to publishing their remarkably accurate aquatints. In Britain, the impact was explosive. A cult of Indian architecture, landscaping and interior decoration arose, with the Royal Pavilion at Brighton as its centerpiece. The Daniells gave the people of Britain their first accurate look at the exotic sub-continent. Their great achievement lies in satisfying the European craving for the picturesque while remaining responsible and accurate to their subjects. The work was issued in seven stages: three sets of twenty-four plates titled Oriental Scenery with title dates of 1795, 1797, and 1801; twelve plates titled Antiquities of India with title date 1799; twenty-four plates titled Hindoo Excavations with title date 1803; twenty-four plates titled Views in Hindoostan with title date 1807; and twelve further plates of Antiquities of India published without a title page in 1808. The Daniells engraved all plates and all are taken from their drawings save the twenty-four plates of Hindoo Excavations, which are after drawings by James Wales.

The Goethals Indian Library & Research Society (GILRS) at St. Xavier's College, Kolkata had recently organized an exhibition of enlarged digital prints of all the 144 plates of the oriental scenery, 28 Panoramic Views of Old Calcutta by William Wood and 24 Views of Calcutta and its environ by James Fraser at the college auditorium. The exhibition was well attended and the breathtaking aquatint views were highly appreciated. GILRS is one of the few places where the complete set of Oriental scenery plates is available.

The uncle-nephew team sailed out from Gravesend in April 1785, destined for the East. They arrived in Calcutta via China early in 1786 to explore the sublime, the exotic and the picturesque India. Their spirit was symptomatic of the first stirring of the romantic movement of the time. Some of the earliest glimpses of the city of Calcutta - its many new Palladian buildings, roads and river ghats, temples and churches, and forms of transport, old and new- are captured in Thomas Daniell's twelve coloured aquatints, Views of Calcutta."

The notion of India as a country rich in subjects, suitable for artists steeped in picturesque visions, had particular consequences for the Daniells. This notion grew partly out of the popular Grand Tour of the Continent undertaken by English collectors. While the consequent influx of imported works of art deprived local artists of commissions back in England, the fashion for European painting and antique sculpture helped to create new patterns in English taste. There was an increased interest in travel and a growing curiosity in the customs, culture and architecture of distant lands. The preference for exotic subjects was nowhere better fulfilled than in the fascination with India, knowledge about which was fuelled by reports of the East India Company's exploits as well as by publications of travelers' accounts, many in newly commissioned translations.

One of the first professional artists to visit India was William Hodges who inspired the works of many subsequent artists including the Daniell's who followed. Hodges was a very accomplished artist who accompanied Capt. Cook (the discovery of Australia) as an official artist on his second voyage in 1725-75. He came to India in 1780 and traveled to various parts of the country for three and a half years. Warren Hastings patronized Hodges during his stay. His works, 'Select Views of India', were published in London from 1785-1788. These consisted of forty-eight picturesque, atmospheric views with sensitive use of shadow and lighting. The Daniells' magnificent views of Indian landscapes and antiquities in both oils and aquatint made an immediate impact on the British elite. Stylistically correct and conventional as they were, their magnitude and novelty charmed the romantically inclined for whom the Greco-Roman culture was effete. Motifs were freely borrowed from Oriental Scenery to decorate wallpapers and ceramics, while the flamboyant domes and minarets of the Royal Pavilion extravaganza at Brighton were directly inspired by the Daniells' accurate depiction of Indian architecture. On the whole, their Oriental Scenery largely contributed to the British image of India as a land of romance and glory. Indeed, the Daniells' paintings have continued to feed the Raj nostalgia to this day.

Aquatint, mostly used in a large format, was the most popular technique for works showing the varied landscapes and architectural sites of India. Many of these series are etched almost entirely in aquatint, giving a soft tonal quality to the images; this is enhanced by the richness and delicacy of hand colouring in watercolour. Line etching is used to indicate outlines and for lettering.

It was the idea of commercially exploiting their artistic work in India that the Daniells conceived the idea of producing multiple sets of prints. Their endeavour was obviously intended to emulate the example of William Hodges' "Select Views of India", selecting those subjects that they hoped would find the most willing market. In the end, the Daniells far surpassed their predecessor's output, moving beyond the 48 prints issued by Hodges.

In a sense, the Daniells used the best technology of their time to obtain exact perspective control: the Camera Obscura, and an innovative reproduction method for serial printing of aquatints so obtained. They embellished this process with an imaginative use of artistic license in the final composition in order to convey a greater sense of the overall site than a narrow perspective could accurately portray. The Camera Obscura invented in Italy in the fifteenth century also became popular among English Artists. It consisted of a large box with sloping sides, one of which was left open for a curtain to be hung. The scene to be depicted was reflected by means of an angled mirror through a glass lens into the box and onto a sheet of paper laid at the base. Simply tracing a pencil over the outlines of the upside-down image captured the reflection. The camera obscura made it possible for the Daniells to record a multitude of views at the greatest possible pace, thereby permitting the artists to travel almost continuously with only minimal delays to complete their preparatory drawings.

A tour of India was a formidable undertaking in those days, but the two Daniells were undaunted. They covered the length and breadth of India in palanquins and bullock carts, on horseback, on foot and on boat, painting Oriental Scenery wherever they went. William's diary offers insights into how uncle and nephew worked closely side by side as a team, passing sketches and watercolors between them.

"The Lord be praised at length, I have completed my twelve views. The fatigue I have experienced... has almost worn me out. I am advised to make a trip of up the country..." wrote Thomas in November 1788. In spite of Thomas' seniority it was William who was to die first in 1837 at the age of 67, outlived for another three years by Thomas who survived until 1840, dying at the remarkable age of 91. They were both buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, London.

More than any other work of art produced at the turn of the nineteenth century, Oriental Scenery contributed the most to the dispersal of knowledge about Indian history, architecture and geography, while at the same time demonstrating that Indian subjects could be artistically reconciled with an essentially European aesthetic. The Daniells must be credited with truly popularizing the Indian style and their aquatints served as a fertile source for a whole host of imitations in England and on the Continent.

Thomas Daniell R.A (1749-1840) and William Daniell R. A. (1769-1837)
Thomas Daniell R.A (1749-1840) and William Daniell R. A. (1769-1837) have been described as artists and travelers. But they were much more than that. They were explorers and adventurers also. They combined artistic talent with dogged endurance, determination, and character, and travelled the innermost parts of virtually unknown eighteenth century India from 1786 to 1793. They observed with painters' eyes the exciting vision of Mughal and Dravidian antiquities and the rural life around them, and recorded them with skill, accuracy and charm. William kept a diary, and this, combined with annotated pencil drawings, colour wash, watercolors, and oil paint, gives us a picture of their abundant talent in a very beautiful country. It was on their return to London that they produced a wonderfully complete graphic record of their journeys in India. Over a period of several years (1795 to 1808) 'Oriental Scenery’, a series of 144 acquatints, was produced. This has delighted us ever since, especially those of us who love India. The Victoria Memorial Hall has a wonderful collection of oil paintings by the two Daniells, the most important that there is anywhere; and it also includes their work in other media, and of course 'Oriental Scenery’ which this exhibition is about. Antonio Martinelli, with his artistic flair, has succumbed to the magic of the Daniells. In order to reproduce the same views which thrilled the Daniells, he has visited the, same places which they visited and reproduced the same views where possible, but in another medium, photography. The skill and artistry involved in this project necessitated much the same expertise, hard work and dedication as was exhibited by Thomas and William over 200 years ago. This exhibition is of enormous interest and importance and Martinelli's work will endure in the same way that 'Oriental Scenery' has.

Dr. Maurice Shellim

London, 2000



Thomas and William Daniell began their travels in India on 3rd September 1788, leaving Calcutta by boat and following the river Ganga route. They ended this outward journey in Srinagar (in the District of Garwhal, Uttar Pradesh) in May 1789. On their way back to Calcutta they stopped at many other places, arriving at the great Indian port, city only in February 1792.

The sites in East-North India visited and recorded in 'Oriental Scenery' are: Calcutta, Bandel, Gaur, Rajmahal, Sakrigali, Jahangira, Patna, Maner, Gaya, Madanpur, Deo, Rohtasgarh, Dhua Kund, Ramgarh, Mundeshvari, Chainpur, Agori, Chunar, Varanasi, Ramnagar, Jaunpur, Allabahad, Kara, Agra, Lucknow, Faizabadh, Kanauj, Sikandra, Mathura, Brindaban, Delhi, Pilibhit, Najibabad, Kotdwara, Dadamandi, Diosa, Badel, Naithana, Teka, Srinagar.



On March 10th 1792 the two artists sailed from Calcutta to Madras reaching it on the 29th of the same month. At time of the Daniells' visit Southern India was just recovering from the third war against Tipu Sultan, usurper to the Mysore throne. Large tracts of territory previously occupied by Tipu had come under the control of the British in 1791 and it was possible for the first time to freely travel throughout the region.

Southern India was considerably less explored than Northern India, and here the Daniells could not easily benefit from the experiences and published works of earlier artists. Nevertheless, they left Madras on 9 April, only 11 days after landing. William's diaries are once again available for this part of the tour and he notes that he and his uncle secured the services of an extensive retinue: two palanquins, each with bearers, two horses with grooms, a bullock cart, three pack-bullocks to carry tents and baggage, seven bearers to carry provisions, two porters to carry the drawing tables and a staff of personal servants.

The route taken by the Daniells more or less followed that of the British army which had defeated Tipu barely a year earlier. Setting off westward from Madras their South India tour covers: Kolar, Bangalore, Hosur, Rayakottai, Virabhadradurg, Jagdevipalaiyam, Deo, Sankaridurg, Trichy, Attur, Madurai, Srivilliputtur, Shivagiri, Kuttalam, Papanasam, Kalakkadi, Tanjavur, Mamallapuram. They were back in Madras in January 1793.


With the funds from their successful sale in Madras, Thomas and William set about planning the third and final stage of their travels, that to Western India. Leaving Madras in the middle of February 1793 they reached Bombay the following month and started their research immediately on sites of interest. In Bombay they met James Wales, an English artist who had been working on the excavated temple of Ellora for a long time. They became friends and after his premature death in 1795, they engraved his work and included it in Volume VI of 'Oriental Scenery’. The Daniells western trip included only some views of Elephanta and Kanheri caves (Salsette). In May 1793 the Daniells left India and returned to England which they reached in September 1794; they had been traveling and working continuously for nine long years.



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