Indian Early Modern and Colonial

Movement: Indian Early Modern and Colonial
Dates: 1400 - 1800

Early Modern and Colonial Era (c.1400 CE c.1800 CE)

Mughal art

Although Islamic conquests in India were made as early as the first half of the 10th century, it wasn't until the Mughal Empire that one observes emperors with a patronage for the fine arts. Emperor Humayun, during his reestablishment of the Delhi Sultanate in 1555, brought with him Mir Sayyid Ali and Abd al-Samad, two of the finest painters from Persian Shah Tahmasp's renowned atelier.

During the reign of Akbar (1556-1605), the number of painters grew from around 30 during the creation of the Hamzanama in the mid-1560s, to around 130 by the mid 1590s. According to court historian Abu'l-Fazal, Akbar was hands-on in his interest of the arts, inspecting his painters regularly and rewarding the best. It is during this time that Persian artists were attracted to bringing their unique style to the empire. Indian elements were present in their works from the beginning, with the incorporation of local Indian flora and fauna that were otherwise absent from the traditional Persian style. The paintings of this time reflected the vibrancy and inclusion of Akbar's kingdom, with production of Persian miniatures, the Rajput paintings (including the Kangra school) and the Pahari style of Northern India. They also influenced the Company style watercolor paintings created during the British rule many years later.

With the death of Akbar, his son Jahangir (1605-1627) took the throne. He preferred each painter work on a single piece rather than the collaboration fostered during Akbar's time. This period marks the emergence of distinct individual styles, notably Bishan Das, Manohar Das, Abu al-Hasan, Govardhan, and Daulat. Jahangir himself had the capability to identify the work of each individual artist, even if the work was unnamed. The Razmnama (Persian translation of the Hindu epic Mahabharata) and an illustrated memoir of Jahangir, named Tuzuk-i Jahangiri, were created under his rule. Jahangir was succeeded by Shah Jahan (1628-1658), whose most notable architectural contribution is the Taj Mahal. Paintings under his rule were more formal, featuring court scenes, in contrast to the personal styles from his predecessor's time. Aurangzeb (1658-1707), who held increasingly orthodox Sunni beliefs, forcibly took the throne from his father Shah Jahan. With a ban of music and painting in 1680, his reign saw the decline of Mughal patronage of the arts.

As painting declined in the imperial court, artists and the general influence of Mughal painting spread to the princely courts and cities of north India, where both portraiture, the illustration of the Indian epics, and Hindu religious painting developed in many local schools and styles. Notable among these were the schools of Rajput, Pahari, Deccan, Kangra painting.

Other medieval Indian kingdoms

The last empire in southern India has left spectacular remains of Vijayanagara architecture, especially at Hampi, Karnataka, often heavily decorated with sculpture. These developed the Chola tradition. After the Mughal conquest, the temple tradition continued to develop, mainly in the expansion of existing temples, which added new outer walls with increasingly large gopurams, often dwarfing the older buildings in the centre. These became usually thickly covered with plaster statues of deities and other religious figures, which need have their brightly-coloured paint kept renewed at intervals so they do not erode away.

In South-Central India, during the late fifteenth century after the Middle kingdoms, the Bahmani sultanate disintegrated into the Deccan sultanates centered at Bijapur, Golconda, Ahmadnagar, Bidar, and Berar. They used vedic techniques of metal casting, stone carving, and painting, as well as a distinctive architectural style with the addition of citadels and tombs from Mughal architecture. For instance, the Baridi dynasty (15041619) of Bidar saw the invention of bidri ware, which was adopted from Vedic and Maurya period ashoka pillars of zinc mixed with copper, tin, and lead and inlaid with silver or brass, then covered with a mud paste containing sal ammoniac, which turned the base metal black, highlighting the colour and sheen of the inlaid metal. Only after the Mughal conquest of Ahmadnagar in 1600 did the Persian influence patronized by the Turco-Mongol Mughals begin to affect Deccan art.

British period (1841-1947)

British colonial rule had a great impact on Indian art, especially from the mid-19th century onwards. Many old patrons of art became less wealthy and influential, and Western art more ubiquitous as the British Empire established schools of art in major cities. The oldest, the Government College of Fine Arts, Chennai, was established in 1850. In major cities with many Europeans, the Company style of small paintings became common, created by Indian artists working for European patrons of the East India Company. The style mainly used watercolour, to convey soft textures and tones, in a style combining influences from Western prints and Mughal painting. By 1858, the British government took over the task of administration of India under the British Raj. Many commissions by Indian princes were now wholly or partly in Western styles, or the hybrid Indo-Saracenic architecture. The fusion of Indian traditions with European style at this time is evident from Raja Ravi Varma's oil paintings of sari-clad women in a graceful manner.

With the Swadeshi Movement gaining momentum by 1905, Indian artists attempted to resuscitate the cultural identities suppressed by the British, rejecting the Romanticized style of the Company paintings and the mannered work of Raja Ravi Varma and his followers. Thus was created what is known today as the Bengal School of Art, led by the reworked Asian styles (with an emphasis on Indian nationalism) of Abanindranath Tagore (1871-1951), who has been referred to as the father of Modern Indian art. Other artists of the Tagore family, such as Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) and Gaganendranath Tagore (18671938) as well as new artists of the early 20th century such as Amrita Sher-Gil (1913-1941) were responsible for introducing Avant-garde western styles into Indian Art. Many other artists like Jamini Roy and later S.H. Raza took inspiration from folk traditions. In 1944, K.C.S. Paniker founded the Progressive Painters' Association (PPA) thus giving rise to the "madras movement" in art.

Art museums of India

Major cities

  • National Museum, New Delhi
  • Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS), Mumbai (formerly Prince of Wales Museum of Western India)
  • Indian Museum, Kolkata
  • Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad
  • Government Museum (Bangalore)
  • Government Museum, Chennai
  • Government Museum and Art Gallery, Chandigarh

Archaeological museums

  • AP State Archaeology Museum, Hyderabad
  • Archaeological Museum, Thrissur
  • City Museum, Hyderabad
  • Government Museum, Mathura
  • Government Museum, Tiruchirappalli
  • Hill Palace, Tripunithura, Ernakulam
  • Odisha State Museum, Bhubaneswar
  • Patna Museum
  • Pazhassi Raja Archaeological Museum, Kozhikode
  • Sanghol Museum
  • Sarnath Museum
  • State Archaeological Gallery, Kolkata
  • Victoria Jubilee Museum, Vijayawada

Modern art museums

  • National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi - established 1954.
  • National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai - established 1996.
  • National Gallery of Modern Art, Bangalore - inaugurated 2009.
  • Kolkata Museum of Modern Art - foundation laid in 2013.

Other museums

  • Albert Hall Museum, Jaipur
  • Allahabad Museum
  • Asutosh Museum of Indian Art, Kolkata
  • Baroda Museum & Picture Gallery
  • Goa State Museum, Panaji
  • Napier Museum, Thiruvananthapuram
  • National Handicrafts and Handlooms Museum, New Delhi
  • Sanskriti Museums, Delhi
  • Watson Museum, Rajkot
  • Srimanthi Bai Memorial Government Museum, Mangalore

See also

  • Indian painting
  • Government College of Fine Arts, Chennai
  • Indian architecture
    • Indian vernacular architecture
  • Crafts of India
  • Rasa (art)
  • Notes


    • Harle, J.C., The Art and Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent, 2nd edn. 1994, Yale University Press Pelican History of Art, ISBN0300062176
    • Harsha V. Dehejia, The Advaita of Art (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2000, ISBN81-208-1389-8), p.97
    • Kapila Vatsyayan, Classical Indian Dance in Literature and the Arts (New Delhi: Sangeet Natak Akademi, 1977), p.8
    • Mitter, Partha. Indian Art (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001, ISBN0-19-284221-8)

    Further reading

    • Gupta, S. P., & Asthana, S. P. (2007). Elements of Indian art: Including temple architecture, iconography & iconometry. New Delhi: Indraprastha Museum of Art and Archaeology.
    • Gupta, S. P., & Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute. (2011). The roots of Indian art: A detailed study of the formative period of Indian art and architecture, third and second centuries B.C., Mauryan and late Mauryan. Delhi: B.R. Publishing Corporation.
    • Abanindranath Tagore (1914). Some Notes on Indian Artistic Anatomy. Indian Society of Oriental Art, Calcutta. OL6213535M.
    • Kossak, Steven (1997). Indian court painting, 16th-19th century.. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. ISBN978-0870997839. (see index: pages148-152)
    • Lerner, Martin (1984). The flame and the lotus: Indian and Southeast Asian art from the Kronos collections. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. ISBN978-0870993749. fully online
    • Smith, Vincent A. (1930). A History Of Fine Art In India And Ceylon. The Clarendon Press, Oxford.
    • Welch, Stuart Cary (1985). India: art and culture, 1300-1900. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. ISBN9780944142134. fully online

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