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Art in India's 'Age of Reform': Amateurs, Print Culture, and the Transformation of the East India Company, c.1813-1858



Change log


Young, Tom 


Two images of British India persist in the modern imagination: first, an eighteenth-century world of incipient multiculturalism, of sexual adventure amidst the hazy smoke of hookah pipes; and second, the grandiose imperialism of the Victorian Raj, its vast public buildings and stiff upper lip. No art historian has focused on the intervening decades, however, or considered how the earlier period transitioned into the later. In contrast, Art in India’s ‘Age of Reform’ sets out to develop a distinct historical identity for the decades between the Charter Act of 1813 and the 1858 Government of India Act, arguing that the art produced during this period was implicated in the political process by which the conquests of a trading venture were legislated and ‘reformed’ to become the colonial possessions of the British Nation.

Over two parts, each comprised of two chapters, two overlooked media are connected to ‘reforms’ that have traditionally been understood as atrophying artistic production in the subcontinent. Part I relates amateur practice to the reform of the Company’s civil establishment, using an extensive archive associated with the celebrated amateur Sir Charles D’Oyly (1781-1845) and an art society that he established called the Behar School of Athens (est.1824). It argues that rather than citing the Company’s increasing bureaucratisation as the cause of a decline in fine art patronage, it is crucial instead to recognise how amateur practice shaped this bureaucracy's collective identity and ethos. Part II connects the production and consumption of illustrated print culture to the demographic shifts that occurred as a result of the repeal of the Company’s monopolistic privileges in 1813 and 1833, focusing specifically on several costume albums published by artists such as John Gantz (1772-1853) and Colesworthy Grant (1813-1880). In doing so, it reveals how print culture provided cultural capital to a transnational middle class developing across the early-Victorian Empire of free trade.

Throughout each chapter, the gradual undermining of the East India Company’s sovereignty by a centralising British State is framed as a prerequisite to the emergence of the nation-state as the fundamental category of modern social and political organisation. Art in India’s ‘Age of Reform’ therefore seeks not only to uncover the work and biographies of several unstudied artists in nineteenth-century India, but reveals the significance of this overlooked art history to both the development of the modern British State, and the consequent demise of alternative forms of political corporation.





Massing, Jean Michel


History of Art, India, Colonialism, State-Formation, Imperial Culture, Imperialism, East India Company, British Art, Amateurism, Print Culture, Lithography


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge