The great gun at Agra
J. P. Losty
IN 1974 there appeared on the London art market two bound volumes of watercolours entitled 'Views by Seeta Ram from Moorshedabad to Patna. Vol. V and 'Views by Seeta Ram from Secundra to Agra. Vol. IX'. Each of these volumes contained twenty-three large watercolours, normally on paper watermarked 'John Dickinson & Co. 1810', laid down on album pages some of which are watermarked 'J. Whatman 1811'. The paintings were recognised immediately as among the greatest achievements of Indian artists in their response to the requirements of their latest patrons, the British officials, officers and merchants of the East India Company, which by 1810 was the ruler of nearly half of India. They all display a sophisticated grasp of the contemporary English topographical style of watercolour painting and engraving with aquatint, exemplified for India by such artists as William Hodges and Thomas and William Daniell, but far transcending their prosaic models in their poetic atmosphere. Sitaram, as we shall henceforth more correctly call him, is perhaps the first Indian artist since the great era of Mughal painting in the seventeenth century to be able to suggest the light and atmosphere of India. Although his grasp of perspective and recession in the European manner can sometimes fail him, it is his mastery of distances dissolving into the heat haze and of the changing light, with particularly atmospheric effects of evening light and moonlight, which marks his stature among Indian artists.
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