The Royal Pavilion, Brighton.
Thomas Daniell was born in 1749 in Kingston upon Thames in Surrey. His father was the landlord of the Swann pub in Chertsey, a few miles from Kingston. He was born in the same year as Charles James Fox, the great Whig politician and adversary of William Pitt the Younger who lived in Chertsey in the latter part of his life.. However, I am sure the two never met, partly because of their differing backgrounds and also because their respective occupations were so very different. Thomas had an artistic talent. He spent his early career as an heraldic and coach painter. He became a member of the Royal Academy but found it hard to establish himself even though he exhibited over thirty works, paintings and illustrations at The Royal Academy between 1772 and 1784.
In 1785 he decided to try his luck in India. He got permission to travel to India from The East India Company. He took with him, as his assistant, his young sixteen year old nephew William Daniell. William Daniell had been born in 1769 and also resided in the Swan Inn in Chertsey, his father taking over the tenancy from Thomas’s father. The two left from Gravesend on the 7th April 1785 and they arrived in Calcutta in early 1786.Thomas kept a detailed journal of their time in India and it is through this journal that we can follow their tours and know exactly where they were on given dates.
Thomas immediately took an advertisement out in The Calcutta Chronicle. It stated his intention to publish a set of views of the city created by etching and aquatint.. He completed twelve plates. Selling prints from these plates provided Thomas and William with the money to set out and tour India.
In September 1788 the Daniells toured Northern India setting out by boat along the Ganges. They set off initially for Murshidababd and went on to Bhagalpur where they stayed for a while with Samuel Davis of the East India Company. They then went on to Kanpur and then overland to Delhi visiting Agra, Fatehpur, Sikri and Mathura. The following April they went to Srinager. Uttarkhand and on to Gharwal in the Himalayas. They sketched and painted temples, palaces, tombs and the scenery wherever they went. They held a lottery in Calcutta for their finished work. The fact the lottery raised enough money for their further exploits shows that their work was admired and its importance recognised. People were prepared to buy lottery tickets knowing they only had a small chance of obtaining one of the original pictures. The Darnell’s must have held an exhibition of their work for all the people buying the lottery tickets to see the paintings. They used the funds to tour south.
By February 1792 the Daniells were back in Calcutta. On the 10th March 1792 the Daniells left Calcutta once more for Madras which they reached on the 29th March. They hired servants and then followed the route of the British Army the year before. The British had defeated Tipu Sultan. By January 1793 they were back in Madras.
A final tour took Thomas and William through Western India from Madras to Bombay. They eventually left India in May 1793 and arrived back in England in September 1794.
Once back in England their main priority was to publish acquatint prints of their paintings of India. William worked extremely hard and worked for the next seven years from 6am in the morning to midnight perfecting his techniques. The Daniell’s great work, “Oriental Scenery,” was eventually published between 1795 and 1805.They consisted of one hundred and forty four coloured acquatints and six uncoloured title pages. The cost of one set was £210. The publication was a success both financially and artistically. Thirty sets were sold to The East India Company and there was a further order of eighteen. Some of the acquatints were based on the drawings of James Wales showing the Caves of Ellora. Each plate was etched by the two Daniells, uncle and nephew.
Much of the buildings they painted in India were those of the Mughal Empire which was situated in northern and central India. The Mughal emperors brought together Persian, Indian and local designs. They were a Muslim nation who followed Islam. Muhammed was their profit and their lives were governed by the Quran. Human,, animal and living things could not be represented in art or architecture. This had not been written in the Quran but the Muslim worlds contact through war and trade with the Christian world with its art and architecture considered western art forms idolatrous to the thinking of Muslims. With this clash of cultures Islam formed its rules against the portrayal of living things. The architecture, the Daniells painted, comprised of mostly holy places such as mosques and royal palaces, the great buildings of the Mughal Empire which reflected these beliefs. Their architecture encompassed intricate, geometrical design that intrinsically was not influenced by living nature. However it is easy to see leaf and plant forms in many examples of Muslim architecture. Whether this is accidental or intentional I am not sure. Architecture was put to practical uses and the needs of the people. It was influenced by the landscape and climate. Intricately designed latticed stone screens created spaces and allowed air to flow through to cool the space. They wanted large spacious prayer halls in their mosques so that large groups of people could gather. The idea of domes to provide roofs over these large spaces was formed. Domes are also good for circulating air so helping to keep the space below cool. Minarets were constructed so that mullahs could send their prayers and their call to prayer out to the surrounding world. In the 18th century, nothing like this had been seen before. Architecture, whether western or eastern, modern or ancient always has a purpose.
One particular building the Daniell’s painted and has become the epitome of Persian and northern Indian architecture is the Taj Mahal. They were probably amongst the first western artists to draw and paint it. It was created by the Shah Jahan I the first half of the 17th century. This period marked the emergence of Persian architecture in India. The use of the double dome, recessed horse shoe shaped archways a perfect symmetry and balance between the different parts of the building and the setting within formal gardens. These features, portrayed in the Daniell’s paintings were to have an influence not imagined by the Mughals in India.
A painting by Thomas Daniell.
The Daniell’s hard work and efforts were a great achievement. They showed Indian architecture to the England of the 18th century. They played no small part in the west’s understanding of the east. However their work was also bastardised and misused. George IV as Prince Regent had a holiday home in Brighton. He was extravagant, indulgent and indifferent to the opinions of others. In 1787, the architect Henry Holland extended the original lodging house the prince used, into a neoclassical building called the Marine Pavilion.George was a lover of French decorative art but also Chinoiserie, a style influenced by China. The captains of tea clippers often brought examples of furniture and pottery from china along with their cargo of tea. The style took off in 18th century England and George was a great advocate. He employed Crace, the firm of interior decorators to furnish his marine pavilion with Chinoiserie. At about the same time George had the magnificent stables next to the pavilion, built in the Indian style of architecture and designed by William Porden. The stables dwarfed the Marine Pavilion. George turned his attention once more to pavilion. He wanted to build a new pavilion. He chose the architect John Nash who proposed an Indian style to match the stables complex. Nash was also influenced by Humphrey Repton who had ideas for a formal Indian garden. Of course the illustrated book of Indian Architecture, “Oriental Scenery,” by Thomas and William Daniell had been published at that time too. Nash plundered ideas from their book. He was provided with all the design ideas he needed.
The Taj Mahal by Thomas Daniell.
If you study the Royal Pavilion at Brighton today you can see how the Daniell’’s paintings influenced the design. Many of the features of the pavilion can be seen in the Taj Mahal. There are domes covering spacious areas beneath. A number of minarets are interspersed between the domes. The surfaces are covered by intricate geometric designs, some of them plant like. Latticed stone archways create shaded cool spaces along one side of the pavilion. Latticed balconies and symmetrically arched windows adorn the outside. However, the large spaces the domes surmount were used for profligate activities. In identical spaces in Indian mosques where prayers would be intoned, lavish, gluttonous feasts would be held, brandy and wine fuelled balls would take place and women lusted after by mysoginistic men. Where the call to prayer at the top of minarets was intoned the smoke from coal fires, warming the Royal Pavilion, poured out into the atmosphere. I may exaggerate a little but the contrast between the two purposes was stark. Although 18th century England might have been shown many cultural elements of the east, it is not sure they understood or empathised.
The rear of The Royal pavilion Brighton from the surrounding gardens originally designed by Humphrey Repton.
There are some dire consequences and dangerous resonances today of course caused by our still inability to understand and empathise with other cultures. You only need to tune into BBC Radio 4 or watch the news on television, every day. The fear caused is palpable.