[1] George Dance RA, Portrait of Thomas Daniell, R.A., pencil on cream wove paper, [1800?] © Royal Academy of Arts, London

[2] Richard Westall RA, Portrait of William Daniell, pencil, pen, and ink and wash on wove paper, [1800?] © Royal Academy of Arts, London

[3] Thomas and William Daniell, The Taje Mahel, at Agra, hand-coloured aquatint printed on Whatman paper, published in T. Daniell, Oriental scenery ...[1st series], London 1795[-97], pl.XVIII, © Royal Academy of Arts, London

[4] Thomas Daniell RA, Hindoo Temples at Bindrabund, East Indies, oil on canvas, 1797
© Royal Academy of Arts, London

[5] Thomas and William Daniell, Eastern Gate of the Jummah Musjid at Delhi, hand-coloured aquatint printed on Whatman paper, T. Daniell, Oriental scenery ...[1st series], London 1795[-97], pl.I, © Royal Academy of Arts, London.

Artist of the Month - February 2016


Thomas Daniell, RA (1749-1840)

Thomas Daniell RA is best known for his images documenting a geographical and cultural range of sites across the Indian subcontinent. More widely travelled than any of his colonial artist counterparts, Thomas earned the nickname of 'artist-adventurer' [1].

In 1784, Daniell received permission from the East India Company to embark on a journey through India, accompanied by his nephew William Daniell RA (1769-1837) [2]. Due to increased British military presence in India, they were the first artist travellers to India able to travel through all three of the Company Presidencies - Calcutta, Madras (now known as Chennai) and Bombay. As a result of these pioneering tours, Daniell gathered a huge visual inventory of the landmark cities, monuments, hill-forts and cave temples of the British territories in India.

As artists of the Romantic picturesque, travelling and capturing the most visually striking sites deemed to be of national interest, accurate and exact representation was of utmost importance. Daniell would use a camera obscura to take a view of the whole site, and a perambulator to measure its spaces. In William's account of their visit to the Taj Mahal, he describes how they "spent the whole day at the Tage Mahl. Uncle drew the view from the Garden in the camera…" [3].

Throughout their travels, their focus depicting India with accuracy and exactitude led them to travelling into difficult to reach areas and covering huge distances by foot, in palanquins, ox-carts and on horseback, in small boats and by sea. Daniell increasingly looked for places and subjects that would appear the most 'exotic' and unusual to British eyes. This 'singular' or uncommon element was a key element in theories of the picturesque.

They created pencil sketches, often colour-washed and some of the most successful and attractive scenes were worked up into fully finished watercolours. Later on, those scenes that particularly appealed were chosen as the subjects for oil paintings, such as Daniell's Diploma work, Hindoo Temples at Bindrabund [4].

On their return to England in 1794, the two artists began to make a series of engravings from the wealth of material they had brought back with them. Between 1795 and 1808 they produced Oriental Scenery, a publication of six volumes containing a total of 144 hand-coloured aquatint views of India. Intended to be a comprehensive and panoramic survey of British India of the moment, the complete set was originally sold at 220 guineas, and was so successful that they produced a smaller quarto edition of the same subjects. When the engravings for Oriental Scenery where published in London, they were praised for their scientific accuracy and faithful representation [5]. The series remains one of the finest and most influential sets of illustations on India and to a great extent inspired the nineteenth-century fashion for Indian-inspired architecture, such as the grand country house and landscape gardens of Sezincote.