Company School

Paintings depicting topographical views of India and botanical studies were produced by various artists in the employment of the East India (John) Company from around 1760 through to the early 19th century.  These were known as Company School and proved extremely popular with their British audience, who revelled in the mystique and romance of the sub-Continent.   There were two distinct angles of Company School - Indian and British, and it is the latter that this beautiful set of watercolours belongs.  The appeal is both academic and sentimental: academic as the historical record of Indian architecture as seen in the early part of the 19th century and sentimental as a panorama of the `wonder that was India' seen through British eyes.

 

Company school, also known as Patna painting. It's a style of miniature painting that got popular in India in the second half of the 18th century. It was in response to the tastes of the British serving with the East India Company. The style of this painting school first emerged in Murshidabad, West Bengal, and then spread to other centres of British trade. These centres included Benaras, Delhi, Lucknow, and Patna. The company school is recognised for its ethereal and brilliant paintings painted and executed in watercolours on mica and paper. Their favourite subjects used to be Indian Daily life, local rulers, sets of ceremonies and festivals, in line with the "Cult of the picturesque" then current in the British artistic circles. Most prominent and appreciated arts of them were about the natural life, but the style is remembered to be generally of a hybrid and undistinguished quality.

 

Its decline started with the arrival of photography, but it survived in the 20th century as Ishwari Prasad of Patna, who died in 1950 and perhaps was the last notable exponent. In the aftermath of the 19th century, the British established various Schools of Art, where history believes that a more Westernised version of the style was taught, later in competition with some other mesmerising styles. Large-scale patrons of Company School were Colonel James Skinner of Skinner's Horse fame, who was a son of a Rajput mother, and for paintings of natural history, Mary Impey, spouse of Elijah Impey, who is recalled to have commissioned over three hundred for the Impey Album, and Marquess Wellesley, who was the brother of the first Duke of Wellington, who had over 2,500. There were equally substantial movements, but much brief remembered to be around the French and Portuguese possessions in India and other South Asian places like Burma and Ceylon.