Visions of India past and present on display at Mumbai exhibition





Colourful, chaotic and charming; India is also an enchanting and overawing country of extremes, with an immensely rich history and cultural diversity. Vasco de Gama landed on the Malabar coast in the south-western state of Kerala in 1498. The prospects of developing trade links with India sparked considerable European interest in India. Throughout the sixteenth century, Dutch, French, Portuguese, Danish and English traders increasingly set up coastal trading centres exporting commodities such as textiles, sugar, indigo, saltpetre, tea and opium.

The British East India Company was founded on December 31st 1600 following Queen Elizabeth I’s signature of a Royal Charter, which granted a group of London merchants a monopoly of all trade East of the Cape of Good Hope and West of the Straits of Magellan for an initial period of fifteen years. The Company first landed in Surat (Gujarat) on the East coast approximately two hundred kilometres North of Bombay in 1608 and gradually established trading posts in Madras (1639), Bombay (1660) and Calcutta (1690). Perceptions of India in Europe at the time were largely based on accounts and paintings by European travellers who published or exhibited their works upon their return.

How did the first Europeans arriving in India view and depict the new world which they discovered? An exhibition currently on show in Mumbai attempts to answer this question. The show at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya museum provides an important insight into European views of India from the seventeenth to the early twentieth century. It is organised in collaboration with London’s Victoria and Albert Museum from which many of the paintings by British artists are on loan. The display includes works by both professional and amateur artists, by artists who travelled to India to paint first hand accounts, as well as by artists in Europe who based their depictions on Mogul works of art, written accounts by European travellers or who copied other artists’ works...


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