With the Daniells in Asia
The English painters Thomas Daniell (1749-1840) and his nephew William (1769-1837) set out for India in 1785, when the younger artist was a mere fifteen years old. Tireless in their search for the picturesque, and eager to capitalize on the growing European taste for the exotic, they sailed by a rather roundabout route through Indonesia to Canton in China before switching boats for the final voyage to Calcutta. Their first two years there were spent preparing Views of Calcutta by a laborious new aquatint process that had been introduced in London by Paul Sandby in 1775.
From 1788 to 1794 they travelled to extensively through India (with a brief side trip to Muscat on the Arabian Peninsula) recording its landscape and scenic ruins in a highly romanticized manner. On their first excursion they set off up the Ganges by boat and eventually continued on land all the way to Kashmir. After returning to Calcutta briefly at the end of 1791 they headed off again for a tour through the south of India. The Daniells returned to England in 1794, by way of Canton again as the route through the Middle East had been disrupted by war.
Among the material the Daniells took with them on their forays into the Indian countryside were a camera obscura, two light drawing tables and a "perambulator" which was used to measure the distance they had travelled. At each site they visited they wold record their first impressions in quick sketches, although some of the finished watercolors on display in this exhibition were presumably also worked on in the open air. Once they arrived back in England, the Daniells then spent many years "translating" their sketches and watercolors into aquatints to be used as plates in thier monumental work Oriental Scenery, which appeared in six parts between 1795 and 1808. The first series was announced by the following newspaper advertisement on March 28, 1795:
Views in the East Indies. Proposals for publishing twenty-four views in Hindostan, consisting of some of the most interesting specimens of Oriental scenery; in which are represented many beautiful, as well as magnificent, examples of the architecture of that extraordinary country, with such other incidental accompaniments as have a reference to the manners and customs of its inhabitants.
Other material, including scenes in Indonesia and China, were published in A Picturesque Voyage to India by Way of China, in 1801. Through this medium, the Daniells' work proved so popular that it soon had an important effect on the decorative arts in England and France. Around the years 1810-1820 scenes taken from Oriental Scenery were added to the repertory of images found on Staffordshire blue-and-white pottery. In 1806 Jean Zuber had also used scenes from this work in a panoramic wallpaper entitled L'Indoustan and in 1815 Joseph Dufour followed suit with Paysage Indian or Vues de l'Inde. Finally, the Daniells' prints also exerted a considerable influence on British architecture as the mania grew for anything tinged with the spirit of India and the Orient.