Carved rocks at Sultaungunge, Bihar oil on canvas 83 x 103cm (32 11/16 x 40 9/16in).
PROVENANCE: The Collection of Ralph Pinder-Wilson (1919-2008)
EXHIBITED: London, Royal Academy, 1806, no.64, 'Sculptured rocks at Sultaungunge Bahar, on the river Ganges'
LITERATURE: M. Shellim, Additional Oil Paintings of India and the East by Thomas Daniell RA 1749-1840 and William Daniell RA 1769-1837 (Spink and Son, London, 1988), illus p.19, no.TD61A.
Thomas Daniell (1749-1840), English topographical artist and engraver, obtained permission from the East India Company to travel to India in 1784. He left in April 1785 with his sixteen year old nephew William as his assistant.
Following two years in and around Calcutta, the Daniells made two trips along the Ganges, both recorded in William Daniell's journal: the first in 1788, when they travelled as far as Hurdwar before returning to Srinagar, and the second from July 1789 until January 1790. The Daniells would have passed the island of Janghira near Sultaungunge, with its holy temple, on both trips, and it is clear that the site fascinated the Daniells, as no fewer than seven drawings are recorded:
"The Fakeers rock...consists of several masses of grey granite and was formerly a point of land projecting from the shore, but by the violence of the current is now become perfectly insular".
"This assemblage of rocks has long been considered as one of the most sacred places on the River Ganges, and much resorted to by the religious Hindoos, not only for its reported sanctity, but on account of a much celebrated figure of Narayan (Brajma), over which is erected a building, probably, either to honour or preserve the idol. There are several other figures of Narayan to be seen here, as well as those of Seeva, Vichnou, and Sooraj." (Oriental Scenery)
The present lot was completed in the studio, on their return to England, based on the sketches made during these two expeditions. Two similar views were published as aquatints in Oriental Scenery: Series V, no.9, S.W. View of the Fakeer's rock in the River Ganges near Sultangunge and No.10, S.E. View of the Fakeers rock in the River Ganges near Sultangunge. Other comparable works include the oil painting Carved rocks at Sultanganj, 1814 (illustrated in Shellim 1979, p.83, no.TD88) and the pencil and wash sketch Hindoo Images Sultan Gunge.
The Daniells travelled throughout the subcontinent, sketching as they went, until their return to England in 1793. Back in London, from 1795 to 1808, they produced the series of 144 aquatints, Oriental Scenery, that gave the people of Britain their first accurate look at the exotic subcontinent, and cemented the Daniells's fame and reputation as artists.
The present lot is a major work, highly accomplished and evocative that is, in both style and subject matter, representative of the zenith of Daniell's career. It combines a graceful yet powerful image with true artistic integrity.
Ralph Pinder-Wilson (1919-2008) read history at Christ Church, Oxford, but on the outbreak of World War II was granted a war emergency honours degree and attached to the Indian Army and posted to India, where he learned Urdu. Following postings to Libya, Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Italy and Greece, he ended the war a captain. His travels had awakened a passion for "the Orient" of the Daniells, and he returned to Oxford to read Oriental languages, Arabic and Persian.
From 1949 until 1976, Pinder-Wilson worked in the Department of Oriental Antiquities in the British Museum. During his time there he proved he had a sharp eye, as well as a broad knowledge of the art and artefacts of the Orient. He famously identified the Vaso Vescovali, an exquisite silver-inlaid Persian bronze bowl dating from the early 13th century, and a long-lost masterpiece of Islamic art. It had been mentioned last by Michelangelo Lanci (Trattato delle simboliche rappresentanze Arabiche, Paris, 1845-46), and had disappeared until Pinder-Wilson and his colleague Douglas Barrett published their discovery in the British Museum Quarterly in 1951. It is now one of the treasures of the British Museum collection.
The present lot is another such amazing discovery. Pinder-Wilson found this unattributed painting sitting in a second-hand shop on Harrow Road in West London in the late 1940s, lacking not just a signature, but any inscription or date. He would have recognised the subject instantly, and must have had strong suspicions regarding the attribution. Pinder-Wilson was extremely pleased with his discovery, and proud to point out to visitors that the picture was actually back where it belonged; fittingly, William Daniell had lived near his house in Earls Terrace, Kensington.
Following his time at the British Museum, in a return to the Greater India he had come to love during the war, Pinder-Wilson was appointed Director of the British Institute of Afghan Studies in Kabul in 1976, despite an offer to succeed Richard Ettinghausen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: One really had to take the chance to live in an Islamic country after having dedicated one's life to the culture.
However, following the Russian invasion in 1979 and the establishment of a Government under Babrak Karmal, Pinder-Wilson found himself one of the few Westerners remaining in Kabul. The Institute was forced to close in 1982 under charges of espionage, and Pinder-Wilson was brought to trial, accused of encouraging Afghans to leave the country, and resulting in a ten-year prison sentence. He was frequently interrogated and brain-washed, forced to write false confessions of guilt, and refused consular access. He was released unexpectedly following the intervention of MP George Galloway on his visit to Kabul in 1982. He returned to the United Kingdom and spent the rest of his life a dedicated, highly-respected and much-loved consultant in Islamic and Indian art.
We are grateful to Maurice Shellim and Wak Kani for their assistance in cataloguing this lot.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: T. Daniell & W. Daniell, Oriental Scenery (London, 1795-1808) M. Shellim, India and the Daniells: Oil Paintings of India and the East by Thomas Daniell RA, 1749-1840, and William Daniell RA, 1769-1837, (London, 1979) 'Ralph Pinder-Wilson: Persian scholar, archaeologist and curator', The Times, London, 10 November 2008