The Battle of Buxar has ended in 1764. The British have yet again won a decisive victory after 1757's Battle of Plassey, and are soon handed part sovereignty of most of eastern India. They aren't traders any longer. So, a decade later, they decide to elevate the Governor of Bengal to the post of Governor General of India and make Calcutta — established in 1690 — the capital of their still-fledgling empire.
A view of the Botanic Garden House and Beach by James B Fraser
Enter European painters, brought in to depict the life and times of the people. Back home, their repertoire was limited to still life, landscapes and massaging the egos of royal patrons. "But when they came to India, it was like they were on a drug high. They painted whatever they saw, be it the neighbourhood mochi or dancing girls," says Jawhar Sircar, chairman, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, who will inaugurate an exhibition titled, Kolkata: Through Colonial Eyes, at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya.
In it, the works of these European artists, who suddenly found unparalleled creative freedom in Kolkata in the 18th and 19th centuries, will be on display. Back then, the camera was as much of a technological innovation as flying cars are today. Their artistic expertise is thus responsible for a historical account of that era.
"So, India's visual archive is 100 years ahead of most other countries. Even though Europeans had paintings 200 to 300 years prior to us, you must understand that their genres were limited. If you look for a painting of a maypole dance in England, for instance, you will probably find one in 1,000. But when it came to India, these artists painted thousands of sketches of festivals, be it Muharram or Durga Puja. So, we have a large spectrum of archived work of almost every aspect of life in India back then," says Sircar, adding that visitors to the exhibition will get access to a wide window that looks into the lives of our ancestors.
On: October 14 onwards, 10.15 am To 6 pm
At: CSMVS, Fort.
Entry: Rs 40 onwards; free for kids below 12