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Kipling and art instruction — I

The first principal of Mayo School of Art’s journey to Lahore

Kipling and art instruction — I

British art instruction in colonial India revolved around one objective — to train local artists who, it was argued, required scientific training in drawing due to the colonial impression, iterated by British artist, art critic and social thinker John Ruskin (1819-1900), that the ‘natives’ could only draw ‘an amalgamation of monstrous objects’.

To broaden the mental and imaginative faculties and to make the ‘natives’ realise the glories of nature around them, scientific training in drawing was viewed as indispensable by Orientalists and administrators. They thought it reflected the intelligence of observation through co-ordination of eye, mind and hand. By acquiring this skill, one’s faculties of perception, precision, discrimination and classification were markedly enhanced.

One significant implication of this policy was the interconnectivity of art with craft, i.e. that ‘art’ was distinguished from ‘craft’. Thus the Orientalists assumed that better craft required knowledge of basic art skills.

Thus, the colonial government re-defined the whole concept of art and devised policies to introduce new meanings of art into local society through art instruction at the Mayo School of Arts in Lahore. It was the first art school in the British Punjab. By the time of its foundation in 1875, art schools had already been established in Calcutta, Madras and Bombay. The aim of British policy-makers finds resonance in the Director of Public Instruction’s report of 1883-84 which defined the two-fold objective of the school as being to train craftsmen in the higher and more artistic branches of their crafts, especially in the principle of design, and to exercise a general influence over the artistic industries of the province, by acting as an aesthetic centre, a school of design, and a source of enlightened criticism and advice.

After an exhibition of Punjab products, arts and manufactures in 1864, the debate around the establishment of a School of Design (to teach drawing and designing) drew the attention of an Education Committee. Regarding art education, however, the main actors were Baden Powell, British Civil Servant, writer and art critic, Richard Temple, art critic and civil servant, H.H. Locke, the first principal of Calcutta School of Arts, John Lockwood Kipling and Dr. De Fabeck, Principal of the Jeypore School of Arts.

It worked out all the necessary details but the proposal fell through due to “the difficulty of setting apart the necessary funds”. The subject remained in ‘abeyance’ until February 1868 when a new Committee was constituted, which made some headway and drew up a report in which instruction in ornamental art as applicable to manufactures and decoration of buildings and actual execution of work were the main objectives set for the school to achieve. The need for teaching free-hand and geometrical drawing was emphasised “so as to enable students to appreciate pattern and form as applicable to manufactures”.

In view of these developments, the Secretary of State for India sanctioned the proposal for the establishment of the School of Industrial Art and Design at Lahore, conceived as a memorial to the late Richard Southwell Bourke, Sixth Earl of Mayo. On December 30, 1874, the Finance Department endorsed the proposal for the establishment of the Mayo School. The Punjab Government started looking for a suitable principal and eventually selected John Lockwood Kipling for the task.

Born to a Yorkshire farming family at Pickering, John Lockwood was the first son of Reverend Joseph Kipling, a Wesleyan minister, and Frances Lockwood. His adolescence and early manhood is shrouded in obscurity. However, he attended a technical or art school after going to Woodhouse Grove, which he left at the age of fourteen. Lockwood Kipling was precocious and had an insatiable desire for learning, which subsequently won him a national scholarship. That enabled to “begin designing and modelling under Philip Cunliffe Owen at the earliest art schools and museum in South Kensington”.

In 1863 he was appointed Professor of Architectural Sculpture in the Jeejebhoy School of Art, Bombay and in the same year, on March 18, he married Alice Macdonald. In April they embarked “on the 12th at Southampton in the Ripon” for India. It was in Bombay that his son Rudyard was born in December 1865. In 1870, Kipling was commissioned to tour the North-Western provinces and to make a number of sketches of Indian craftsmen, some of which are today held at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. He was to combine the roles of illustrator, including those for his son Rudyard’s books, with that of art administrator and curator during the remainder of his working life in India.

Kipling arrived in Lahore on April 24, 1875, and after carrying out the formality of reporting to the Director of Public Instruction Major W.R.M. Holroyd, he took over as principal on May 27. His immediate concern was premises. Permanent arrangements for the school’s own buildings needed immediate attention, as there was no readily available building adjacent to the Museum. Temporarily, he secured the possession of a house previously occupied by a Mr. Joseph Harrison. Colonel Young proposed the General Post Office’s building as a viable option for the school since it was quite spacious though situated “at an inconvenient distance from the railway station” yet “conveniently near to the museum”. The government did not agree with this proposition.

Captain Nisbet pointed to the old hospital in Hira Mandi (the red light area) near Lahore Fort as a suitable place to meet the demands of the new institution. However, Kipling had serious reservations owing to the scarcity of space and the inappropriate location of the proposed site. He termed the old hospital “notoriously unhealthy” and maintained that it could incur unnecessary expenditure to meet the school’s requirements.

It was eventually in 1876 that a site for the school was selected near the station library. Money raised from the Mayo Memorial fund was stipulated for the designing and construction of the building, which was to be “of plastered brick and Saracenic in style”.

Read the second part of the three-part series here.

Tahir Kamran

tahir kamran
The writer is Professor in the faculty of Liberal Arts at the Beaconhouse National University, Lahore

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