It is a rare opportunity to be given a curatorial blank slate like the one that has been handed to the Wallace Collection for Forgotten Masters: Indian Painting for the East India Company. The exhibition’s 109 works belong to the relatively unexamined genre of Company Painting. These are works created in India by Indian artists but commissioned by East India Company (EIC) officials, in the late 18th and 19th centuries, who wanted to record the flora, fauna and daily scenes of their new home.
Established in the 17th century, the EIC was a privately owned company initially conceived as a trading body for Asian goods. By the early 19th century it had claimed territory over large parts of the Indian subcontinent, aided in part by a weakening Mughal Empire. Having increasingly becomean imperial arm of the British government, it ceded its territory in 1858 to the newly established British Raj. As a result, these paintings embody elements of both East and West, curious fusions that engender comparisons from the flattened landscapes of Eric Ravillious to the exquisite detailing found in Persian miniature tradition. But rather than being embraced by both countries, the works’ liminal position has left them historically misaligned. In fact, despite a bulk of the genre’s masterpieces lying in British institutions (key loans will come from the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum), they have never received a dedicated
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