Company style

Last updated

Group of Courtesans, Sikh Empire 1800-1825, 26 cm x 31.2 cm (10.2 in x 12.3 in) opaque watercolour and gold on paper Group of Courtesans, northern India, 19th century.jpg
Group of Courtesans, Sikh Empire 1800–1825, 26 cm × 31.2 cm (10.2 in × 12.3 in) opaque watercolour and gold on paper

Company style, also known as Company painting or Patna painting [1] (Hindi: kampani kalam) is a term for a hybrid Indo-European style of paintings made in India by Indian artists, many of whom worked for European patrons in the East India Company or other foreign Companies in the 18th and 19th centuries. The style blended traditional elements from Rajput and Mughal painting with a more Western treatment of perspective, volume and recession. Most paintings were small, reflecting the Indian miniature tradition, but the natural history paintings of plants and birds were usually life size.



Khan Bahadur Khan with Men of his Clan, c. 1815, from the Fraser Album Khan Bahadur Khan with men of his clan (6125079998).jpg
Khan Bahadur Khan with Men of his Clan, c.1815, from the Fraser Album

First emerging in Murshidabad, later leading centres were the main British settlements of Calcutta, Madras (Chennai), Varanasi, Delhi, Lucknow, Patna, the Maratha court of Thanjavur and Bangalore. [1] Subjects included portraits, landscapes and views, and scenes of Indian people, dancers and festivals. Series of figures of different castes or trades were particular favourites, with an emphasis on differences in costume; now they are equally popular as subjects for analysis by historians of the imperialist mentality.

Portfolios of animal or botanical subjects were also commissioned, and some erotic subjects. Architectural subjects were popular, usually done in a detailed and frontal style more like that of an architectural draftsman than the Romanticised style used by most European painters visiting India. The techniques varied, but mostly drew on Western watercolour technique, from which "transparency of texture, soft tones and modelling in broad strokes" were borrowed. [2]

Patrons and artists

Great Indian Fruit Bat (Pteropus giganteus), Bhawani Das or follower, 1777-82, from Mary Impey's album of natural history paintings Great Indian Fruit Bat MET DP167067.jpg
Great Indian Fruit Bat (Pteropus giganteus), Bhawani Das or follower, 1777–82, from Mary Impey's album of natural history paintings

Large-scale patrons included Colonel James Skinner of Skinner's Horse fame, who had a Rajput mother, and for natural history paintings, Mary Impey, wife of Elijah Impey, who commissioned over three hundred for the Impey Album, and the Marquess Wellesley, brother of the first Duke of Wellington, who had over 2,500. There were equivalent movements, but much smaller, around the French and Portuguese possessions in India, and in other South Asian areas like Burma and Ceylon.

The French-born Major-General Claude Martin (1735–1800), latterly based in Lucknow, commissioned 658 paintings of birds, including Black Stork in a Landscape , now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. [3]

Some notable artists include Mazhar Ali Khan, who worked on Thomas Metcalfe's Delhi Book, and was part of a dynasty of miniature artists, the patriarch of whom, Ghulam Ali Khan, had worked for William Fraser on a similar commission known as the Fraser Album, with over 90 paintings and drawings, mostly painted in 1815 to 1819, which came to light in Fraser's papers only in 1979; they are now dispersed. He, like his uncle Ghulam Murtaza Khan, also painted portraits of the last Mughal emperors and their courts.

The Delhi Book or Reminiscences of Imperial Delhi is an album including 120 paintings in Company style, commissioned in 1844 by Sir Thomas Metcalfe, the Company's Agent at the Mughal court after the murder of Fraser in 1835. Most are by Mazhar Ali Khan, and show the final years of the Delhi court, as well as local monuments. The book is now in the British Library in London. [4]


A Green-Winged Macaw, folio from Mary Impey's album of natural history paintings, Attributed by inscription to Shaikh Zain al-Din, Calcutta, about 1780 Green-Winged-Macaw.jpg
A Green-Winged Macaw, folio from Mary Impey's album of natural history paintings, Attributed by inscription to Shaikh Zain al-Din, Calcutta, about 1780

Paintings were mostly on paper, but sometimes on ivory, especially those from Delhi. They were mostly intended to be kept in portfolios or albums; the muraqqa or album was very well established among Indian collectors, though usually including calligraphy as well, as least in Muslim examples. The style developed in the second half of the 18th century, and by the early nineteenth century production was at a considerable level, with many of the cheaper paintings being copied by rote. By the 19th century many artists had shops to sell the work and workshops to produce it.


The arrival of photography was a direct blow for the style, but it survived into the 20th century, Ishwari Prasad of Patna, who died in 1950, being perhaps the last notable exponent. In the late 19th century the British established several Schools of Art, where a yet more Westernised version of the style was taught, later in competition with other styles.

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Indian art</span> Art from Indian Subcontinent cultures

Indian art consists of a variety of art forms, including painting, sculpture, pottery, and textile arts such as woven silk. Geographically, it spans the entire Indian subcontinent, including what is now India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and at times eastern Afghanistan. A strong sense of design is characteristic of Indian art and can be observed in its modern and traditional forms.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mughal painting</span> South Asian painting in manuscript miniatures from the Mughal period

Mughal painting is a style of painting on paper confined to miniatures either as book illustrations or as single works to be kept in albums (muraqqa), from the territory of the Mughal Empire in South Asia. It emerged from Persian miniature painting and developed in the court of the Mughal Empire of the 16th to 18th centuries. Battles, legendary stories, hunting scenes, wildlife, royal life, mythology, as well as other subjects have all been frequently depicted in paintings.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rajput painting</span>

Rajput painting, also called Rajasthan painting, evolved and flourished in the royal courts of Rajputana in northern India, mainly during the 17th century. Artists trained in the tradition of the Mughal miniature were dispersed from the imperial Mughal court and developed styles also drawing from local traditions of painting, especially those illustrating the Hindu religious epics, the Mahabharata and Ramayana.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Indian painting</span> History and overview of the painting in India

Indian painting has a very long tradition and history in Indian art, though because of the climatic conditions very few early examples survive. The earliest Indian paintings were the rock paintings of prehistoric times, such as the petroglyphs found in places like the Bhimbetka rock shelters. Some of the Stone Age rock paintings found among the Bhimbetka rock shelters are approximately 10,000 years old.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nawabs of Bengal</span> Rulers of Eastern India and Bangladesh in the 18th-century

The Nawab of Bengal was the hereditary ruler of Bengal Subah in Mughal India. In the early 18th-century, the Nawab of Bengal was the de facto independent ruler of the three regions of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa which constitute the modern-day sovereign country of Bangladesh and the Indian states of West Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. They are often referred to as the Nawab of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. The Nawabs were based in Murshidabad which was centrally located within Bengal, Bihar, and Odisha. Their chief, a former prime minister, became the first Nawab. The Nawabs continued to issue coins in the name of the Mughal Emperor, but for all practical purposes, the Nawabs governed as independent monarchs. Bengal continued to contribute the largest share of funds to the imperial treasury in Delhi. The Nawabs, backed by bankers such as the Jagat Seth, became the financial backbone of the Mughal court. During the 18th century, the Nawabs of Bengal were among the wealthiest rulers in the world.

<i>Padshahnama</i> 17th-century Indian history

Padshahnama or Badshah Nama is a group of works written as the official history of the reign of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. Unillustrated texts are known as Shahjahannama, with Padshahnama used for the illustrated manuscript versions. These works are among the major sources of information about Shah Jahan's reign. Lavishly illustrated copies were produced in the imperial workshops, with many Mughal miniatures. Although military campaigns are given the most prominence, the illustrations and paintings in the manuscripts of these works illuminate life in the imperial court, depicting weddings and other activities.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sir Thomas Metcalfe, 4th Baronet</span>

Sir Thomas Theophilus Metcalfe, 4th Baronet, KCB was an East India Company civil servant and agent of the Governor General of India at the imperial court of the Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Muraqqa</span> Album in book form containing Islamic miniature paintings and calligraphy

A Muraqqa is an album in book form containing Islamic miniature paintings and specimens of Islamic calligraphy, normally from several different sources, and perhaps other matter. The album was popular among collectors in the Islamic world, and by the later 16th century became the predominant format for miniature painting in the Persian Safavid, Mughal and Ottoman empires, greatly affecting the direction taken by the painting traditions of the Persian miniature, Ottoman miniature and Mughal miniature. The album largely replaced the full-scale illustrated manuscript of classics of Persian poetry, which had been the typical vehicle for the finest miniature painters up to that time. The great cost and delay of commissioning a top-quality example of such a work essentially restricted them to the ruler and a handful of other great figures, who usually had to maintain a whole workshop of calligraphers, artists and other craftsmen, with a librarian to manage the whole process.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Patna School of Painting</span> Style of Indian painting

Patna School of Painting is a style of Indian painting which existed in Bihar, India in the 18th and 19th centuries. Patna Qalaam was the world's first independent school of painting which dealt exclusively with the commoner and their lifestyle which also helped Patna Kalam paintings gain in popularity. The Principal centers were Patna, Danapur and Arrah.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Metcalfe House</span> Mansions in Qutb Complex

Metcalfe House is the name given to two residential houses built in the 19th century in Delhi; one is near Old Delhi Civil Lines and the other is in Mehrauli, South Delhi. These were built by Sir Thomas Theophilus Metcalfe, 4th Baronet (1795–1853), a Civil Servant, when he was the Governor General’s last British Resident (Agent) at the Mughal Court of Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar II.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mary Impey</span>

Mary, Lady Impey was an English natural historian and patron of the arts in Bengal. The wife of Sir Elijah Impey, the Chief Justice of Bengal, she established a menagerie in Calcutta and commissioned Indian artists to paint the various creatures.

Ghulam Ali Khan was a nineteenth century Indian painter in Delhi. His painting career took place over the course of more than four decades, from 1817 to 1852. He was the last royal Mughal painter, and also painted in the Company style for British patrons.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">William Fraser (British India civil servant)</span>

William Fraser was a British India civil servant who was an Agent to the Governor General of India and Commissioner of the Delhi Territory during the reign of the last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar. He was a brother of James Baillie Fraser.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Delhi Book</span> 19th collection of Indian paintings

Delhi Book or Delhie Book titled Reminiscences of Imperial Delhi is a collection of paintings done in Company style, commissioned by Sir Thomas Metcalfe in 1844. It contains 120 paintings by Indian artists, mainly by Mughal painter, Mazhar Ali Khan. The book was bought by the British Library in London.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mazhar Ali Khan (painter)</span>

Mazhar Ali Khan was a late-Mughal era, 19th century painter from Delhi, working in the Company style of post-Mughal painting under Western influence. He was active from 1840, and is known for his noted work of topographical paintings commissioned by Sir Thomas Metcalfe's, Delhi Book.

Ghulam Murtaza Khan (1760–1840) is a Mughal era, 19th century painter from Delhi. He worked under penultimate Mughal emperor Akbar Shah II. He worked under British officers, Skinner and William Fraser. The painting style was known as company style.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Impey Album</span>

The Impey Album was a collection of Company style paintings commissioned by Elijah Impey (1732–1809) and his wife Mary, née Reade (1749–1818), of the animals in their menagerie in Calcutta, India, where Elijah was chief justice of the Supreme Court.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sheikh Zainuddin</span> Indian artist

Sheikh Zainuddin or Shaikh Zain-al-Din was an artist of the East India Company period who moved from Patna to Calcutta and rose to prominence under European patronage in British Raj. His works blending Mughal and Western painting techniques belonged to the Company style of painting.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Deccan painting</span> Form of miniature painting

Deccan painting or Deccani painting is the form of Indian miniature painting produced in the Deccan region of Central India, in the various Muslim capitals of the Deccan sultanates that emerged from the break-up of the Bahmani Sultanate by 1520. These were Bijapur, Golkonda, Ahmadnagar, Bidar, and Berar. The main period was between the late 16th century and the mid-17th, with something of a revival in the mid-18th century, by then centred on Hyderabad.

Bihar is a state in eastern India divided by the Ganges river, an area which was once an important center for culture and learning. A Neolithic settlement has been discovered at Chirand which contains rock paintings similar to those found in Spain's Altamira and France's Lascaux regions. The tradition of painting has been handed down from generation to generation in the families of the Mithila region, mainly by women. Painting was usually done on walls during festivals, religious events, and other milestones of the life cycle, like birth, Upanayanam, and marriage. Other styles of this region include Tikuli, Manjusha, and Patna kalam.


  1. 1 2 "Company school | Indian art | Britannica". Retrieved 29 August 2022.
  2. Linda Leach in George Mitchell (ed.), In the Image of Man, The Indian Perception of the Universe through 2000 years of painting and sculpture, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1982, ISBN   0-7287-0311-4
  3. "Black Stork in a Landscape". The Metropolitan Museum of Art, i.e. The Met Museum. Retrieved 25 May 2018.
  4. The 'Delhi Book' of Thomas Metcalfe

Further reading