About Contact Submit Article or Event

Art connections: Edwin and India

by Sunil Nair

Perhaps many of us hardly know about Edwin Lord Weeks, undoubtedly one of the most celebrated American orientalists who captured the vibrancy of the rural India through his paintings. This 18th century artiste, born to an affluent American family, spent more than a decade traveling across India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Turkey, capturing on his canvas the many facets of the unruffled rural life.

As a traveler-painter, Edwin spent most of his day times traveling and photographing, spending the nights portraying the captured moments on canvas. According to his own letters, the photographs aided him in assimilating the architectural style and meticulous specifications of the Mughal times. His portrayals of the monuments and forts, such as the ones in Fatehpur Sikri, Agra and Delhi, are very precise and thorough. The painstaking detailing is a hallmark of his paintings.

'Feeding the sacred pigeons', 'A craftsman selling cases by a teakwood building', 'An Indian hunting party' and 'A royal procession' are some of his hundred odd paintings that are sure to leave many agape. Unquestionably there are not many artistes who match his portraying the Mughal architecture with as much degree of acuity, intricacy and sensitivity. One is amazed by his depth of awareness of the socio-cultural context and his appreciative treatment of the ethnicity of the period.

A celebrated artiste, both in his own country and France, he was made a Knight of the Legion of Honour in 1896. One wonders if William Dalrymple derived his inspiration to pen "The Last Mughal" from Edwin’s works on the Mughal era! He continued to paint till his untimely death in 1903, a probable consequence of his illness contracted while in India.