Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya

Indian Life And People In The 19th Century Company Paintings From The Tapi & CSMVS Collections



159-161, Mahatma Gandhi Road, Kala Ghoda, Fort
Mumbai, Maharashtra 400023
Phone: 022 2284 4484 | Email:

For Immediate Release


An Exhibition of Non-Indian Antiquities from Sir Ratan Tata Collection
(Sir Ratan Tata Centenary Commemoration)


Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS)

Friday | 7th December 2018 | 6 pm Special Exhibition Gallery, First Floor Extension Building

The Exhibition Will Remain Open To The Public Until 7th January 2019


MUMBAI; 7th December 2018, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) will open an exhibition titled Indian Life and People in the 19th Century: Company Paintings from the Tapi & CSMVS Collections. It will be inaugurated by noted popular writer and historian William Dalrymple. The show accompanies a catalogue by art historian J.P. Losty with a foreword by John Keay. The Exhibition has been curated by Vandana Prapanna for the CSMVS.

Company Paintings

Historically, the ordinary people of India in their everyday setting were seldom a subject portrayed in Indian paintings. Traditional preoccupations of Indian artists and their patrons revolved around the splendour of courts, royal portraits, historical scenes or illustrations of the poetic and the divine. This changed dramatically in the late 18th and 19th centuries, with the rise of the East India Company. With receding patronage from Indian rajas and nawabs, the British Company officials became the new patrons of a hybrid style of painting referred to as Company paintings. Their taste favoured a style that reflected influences from the Western painting conventions of shading, perspective and use of a softer colour palette over the vivid gouache used by Indian miniature artists. This gave rise to a unique Indo-European Company qalam, one that mixed European with indigenous traditions.

In their eagerness to survey and document India and romanticize its landscape and people, the British patrons commissioned Indian artists to paint subjects they observed around them. There was an explosion of interest in the human element, unlikely subjects that had never been explored before – local trades, occupations, attire, castes, crafts, bazaars and festivals were all part of the repertoire of Company painting. In providing a platform for accurate depiction of details, these paintings present an authentic record of Indian social life in the nineteenth century, before photography was invented.

Before the advent of the camera in the 1850s, a British diarist hoping to gain a readership back home needed to accompany his text with hand-drawn illustrations executed by Indian artists. Company Officers regularly sent letters and visual descriptions of picturesque and exotic scenes, of Indians employed in their domestic households to their families and friends in Britain.

Most Company paintings and drawings were on paper, drawn with a brush using watercolour and sometimes gouache (watercolour thickened with an opaque filler). Gold, the traditional highlighter of Indian miniatures, or occasionally silver, were used sparingly for jewellery.

Shilpa Shah quotes

‘To see kings and queens in their courtly settings, or gods and goddesses in theirs, we have our miniature paintings to go to. But where do you go to see the ordinary Indian humbly plying his trade two hundred years ago? For this, you need Company Paintings! Before photography, it is paintings patronised by the British that provide an authentic and unparalleled window into India’s past.’

The Exhibition

The exhibition Indian Life and People in the 19th Century: Company Paintings from the Tapi & CSMVS Collections will feature Company paintings of the 19th century that shed light on the life and people of India two hundred years ago. This is the first such exhibition to be held in Mumbai of paintings made by Indian artists for then British patrons. Unlike courtly and elite themes that were the subject of miniature paintings up until the 18th century, Company paintings lay claim to be accurate reproductions of daily life of ordinary people - their trades, castes, crafts, attire, their appliances and tools. Covering a period before the advent of photography, Company paintings provide an unparalleled window into India’s past.

The Exhibition will present around 120 paintings made in Calcutta (present day Kolkata), Delhi, Tanjore, Murshidabad, Kutch, Patna and the Andhra coast, drawn from the Tapi Collection and CSMVS. They include paintings from the Fraser album as well as paintings done by artists Shaykh Muhammad Amir of Karraya and Munna Lal. A set of polychrome terracotta figures from the CSMVS collection will also be on display.

The Exhibition also presents early 20th century clay figures depicting people in their traditional attires and professions. Along with paintings, this was another art medium that was popular with the Company paintings. Such clay figures were popular with the European tourists as early as the mid-18th century. Some of the first clay figures from Poona (Maharashtra) and Krishnanagar (Bengal) are displayed in the exhibition.

Mr. Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Director General, CSMVS observes that “as a museum of the people by the people, it is important to show glimpses from the life of ordinary people now and in the past. In this regard, the exhibition on Company paintings is of immense importance to us and we are happy that one of the finest collections of the country is being shown here alongside our own objects”.

Notes to the Editor

About the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS)
The Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, is a premier museum and cultural institution of India. It is a not-for-profit organization opened to the public in 1922 and is governed by a Board of Trustees. Designed by George Wittet, a British architect in 1909, the museum building is a Grade I Heritage Structure and is a fine example of the Indo Saracenic style of architecture. The Museum houses a 70,000-strong multicultural collection of artefacts from Asia and Europe. The Museum is a part of the recently declared The Victorian and Art Deco Ensemble of Mumbai UNESCO World Heritage Site.

About the TAPI Collection
The TAPI Collection, an acronym for ‘Textiles and Art of the People of India’, is named after the river Tapi in Surat, the city of its founders, Praful and Shilpa Shah.Begun in the 1980s as an informal resource for textile design, the TAPI Collection took formal shape in the year 2000. Since then, it has evolved into one of the most eminent private collections of Indian historic textiles in the country today. In addition to textiles, the TAPI Collection includes other forms of Indian art – classical and modern art and sculpture. Its holdings of Company Paintings reflect the Shahs’ interest in the dress and manners of common people of India two centuries ago. Highlights from TAPI’s collection of Company Paintings will be exhibited at the CSMVS for the first time along with a select group of Company paintings from the CSMVS’ own collection.

Through its publications and exhibitions, the TAPI Collection aims to help people to explore, enjoy, and rediscover the world of Indian art and textiles. Over the past few years, sections from the TAPI collection have been exhibited at museums and institutions in India and abroad.