Hotels in India » Art and Crafts in India » First Views of Bihar

First Views of Bihar

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the river Ganga formed the principal channel of traffic between east and north India. With the emergence of the British as the dominant power in the country, British landscape artists started coming to India in increasing numbers. These artists made charming sketches while sailing up and down the river – the first ever visual impressions of Bihar.

The journey up the Ganga from Kolkata to Kanpur and beyond passed mainly through modern-day Bihar. The artists’ sketches drawn during their travels up and down the river thus inevitably included a large number of places along the river. However, many artists went into the interior of the state of Bihar and made some delightful sketches of the picturesque scenes there.

The two artists whose views not only of Bihar but of all India excel all others were Thomas Daniell and his nephew William, who spent seven years in India from 1786 to 1793. They built up a large stock of drawings in the course of their travels and on their return to England embarked on making aquatints for their acclaimed Oriental Scenery, a truly massive enterprise published in six parts of 24 views each between 1795 and 1808. Two of their finest aquatints are those of a part of the city of Patna and the mausoleum of Nawab Asaf Khan at Rajmahal which was the capital of Bihar and Bengal in the seventeenth century. Two other charming Bihar sketches along the Ganga were S.W. view of the Fakeer’s Rock in the Rvier Ganges, near Sultangunge and S.E. View of the Fakeer’s Rock in the River Ganges, near Sultangunge. These rocks have been long considered among the most sacred places on the Ganga, and were sketched by practically every artist who passed that way.

The Daniells made a short inland journey into Bihar and made some exceptionally pleasing views of some of the places. At Agori, on the River son, they succeeded in producing a truly exquisite aquatint which embodies the exact requirements for picturesque landscapes prescribed in art circles in the late eighteenth century Britain. The river and temples provide the background and middle distance, whereas the drooping roots of the banyan tree in the foreground dominate the captivating picture which is enlivened with groups of human figures.

Waterfalls, like the banyan trees, ever remained the Daniells’ favourite subject, and they made a particularly charming aquatint of Dhuah Koonde, or “Pool of Smoke” where a stream drops down in a massive cascade. Another fine sketch made by them was that of the N.W. View of the Fort of Rohtasgarh within which were the remains of a Mughal palace, mosques and Hindu temples. An exceptionally fascinating sketch made by them was The Sacred Tree of the Hindoos at Gyan, Bahar.

Another artist who deserves special reference is Lieutenant-Colonel Forrest who published in London 24 “highly finished and colourful views” of the river in 1824 under the title A Picturesque Tour Along the Rivers Ganges and Jumna. Two of the finest views of the river drawn by him while passing through Bihar were the Motee Girna, or Fall of Pearls in the Rajemahal Hills and the Rocks of Colganj.

Yet another highly talented artist was Colonel Robert Smith who made a wonderful set of excellent watercolours for the sites and scenes in Bihar as he sailed down the Ganga on his way back to England in 1830. The most interesting of his views was easily the beehive-shaped granary built by the well known engineer Colonel Garstin in 1786, under orders of Warren Hastings, for storing grain as a safeguard against famine. This building also came to be known for its clear echo. Another beautiful watercolour made by him was the house of one of the East India Company’s early servants Augustus Cleveland at Bhagalpur which was the administrative headquarters of a district.

Easily the finest and certainly the most prolific of all accomplished amateur artists was Sir Charles D’Oyly, and East India Company civil servant who spent almost 11 years (1821-23) as the Company’s Resident at Patna. He is well known for founding an art society in Patna which he named “The United Patna and Gaya City or Bihar School of Athens”. Two of his very rare oil paintings of the interesting bazaar scenes of Patna are now in the collection of the Yale Center of British Art in the U.S.A.

Another view painted practically by every artist visiting Bihar was the mausoleum of Sher Shah at Sasaram. Two oil paintings of the mausoleum were done by William Daniell one of which (painted in 1810) finds the pride of place in the Tate Gallery in London. Almost the earliest oil painting, however, was done by Francis Swain ward who had received professional training as an artist in London about the middle of the eighteenth century before joining the Madras Army. He made several excellent sketches of the present-day Tamil Nadu, and Sher Shah’s mausoleum is the only painting of a subject outside south India done by him. It shows the tomb and its periphery in a large tank near Sasaram in Bihar.

 Email this page