TRUE to his spoken word Sir George Lloyd continued to study at first hand the needs of the School of Art and laboured with all the determination and energy that distinguished his administration to help the School in its great task. It is probable that very few among British Pro-Consuls have been seen time after time moving with an electrifying zeal among the students of an Art School while they were at work; pausing to praise the drawing of some enthusiastic young man and comparing it with a previous study; or delving deeply into the personal needs of the Indian Artists, their status, and the chances of improving it, at a period when money was scarce and the dreaded word “Retrenchment” could shatter more edifices, (whether ancient landmarks, or those airy ones built up by warmhearted lovers of India,) than ever did the trumpets of the priests at Jericho.
Turning from the pessimists who teach that the Indian is but a copyist, Sir George preferred to look upon the latest imaginative sketches of the students for mural panels and decorative borders. When it was urged upon him that the flat convention was the most that could be hoped for from the Indian Artist, he would repair to the Life Classes of the School. There he would watch the progress of sound drawing, veracious tone values, and chiarascuro; and these most vital of all classes which his personal support had started as an experiment, were stabilised by an additional grant from Government as a confirmed success.1 When told that the School of Art was but uselessly labouring to produce Artists for whom there existed no Public Demand, the Governor’s voice was eloquently raised on many a public platform to “speak for those who could not speak for themselves” During his term of office he studied the theory of Emancipation of Indian Art so well, gave such telling impetus to the great artistic Ideal which he envisaged through the School of Art, that it was said of him on his retirement from Office by one of the foremost but also one of the most knightly of his political critics, “What Lord Curzon did for Archaeology Sir George Lloyd had within the limits of his jurisdiction tried to do for Indian Art.”
Fortunate indeed were the staff and students whose efforts were supported and whose difficulties feelingly reduced by one of the staunchest and most intrepid friends who has ever succoured any group of hard-pressed artists.
But while His Excellency was an eager champion of the School’s demand for the expansion which only opportunity can give, he was no tolerator of the Artistic theorist, and Production had to keep pace with demand. The most recent years have been years of arduous work, but so congenial withal that the staff and students have cheerfully borne the additional labour, which the several considerable public works on which they were engaged either by the Governor or through his advocacy naturally entailed.
After the strenuous year 1919-20 when the students were busy painting their own walls, a trial effort which was to awaken (and did awaken) an apathetic city to a knowledge of the talent which had been buried when it might have been put out to usury, came the commission to decorate the panels in the Durbar Hall, Government House, Bombay.
These were twenty in number and were all designed and executed by the students. Four of them measured 13X7 feet; and in these the figures had to be of the size of life. The remainder were of smaller dimensions.
True to its present creed no mere achaicisms were adopted in these panels; and as the designs were original, so were the types depicted sought for and found in that happiest of hunting-grounds for the Indian Artist, India, herself. The students decided to paint symbolic renderings of the Fine Arts, Handicrafts, and Occupations of the Deccan. The larger panels depicted Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, and the Applied Arts. The smaller showed Hunting, Fishing, Gardening, Ploughing, Water-lifting, etc.
These panels were warmly welcomed and praised by the many who crowd to enjoy Their Excellencies’ hospitality at Government House, both as an acquisition to the walls, and as an earnest of what might be expected of such progressive young artists.
Another big effort of the School this year was the painting of the Pylons which decorated the streets of Bombay on the occasion of the Visit of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. In this work the staff of the School took part aided by the students and showed what could be done by Indian methods adapted to meet the exigencies of the short time at their disposal. In consequence of the Publicity given to the School by these works, the Prize-giving Ceremony on February I4th 1922 was a brilliant function, and the verdant lawn that surrounded the decorated shamiana that the students had erected for Their Excellencies was crowded with friends and supporters of the School of Art. The costumes of the Europeans contrasted with the Indian dresses, and broken by a large sprinkling of white “Gandhi “caps showed emblematically the catholicity of that appeal which the School of Art ought to make to its public. For the School’s compound is neutral ground where rival factions fraternally mix, where Cosmopolitan hearts beat in unison to the gentle but irresistible music of Saraswati’s Vina which can still the pulsations of Politics, or the frettings of Commerce, as sweetly as did the harp of Orpheus the fierce prowlers of the Dorian Forests.
On this well-remembered occasion Sir George Lloyd presented a special Gold Medal and Silver Medal for the Mural Paintings, and in the course of his speech expressed his great gratification at the progress which the School had achieved since the occasion of his unveiling the first Mural Paintings; “which” continued His Excellency, “goes to prove I think that the lines upon which the Principal and the School then chose to work were emphatically the right lines,—the lines of assimilating to the national Indian genius the best in modern Art. It is satisfactory also to learn from your Principal’s speech that the number of students in the school shows a steady if not a very large increase. I am fully aware of the difficulties which students must face in attending the classes here. Government have, I am glad to say, approved, as an administrative measure the institution of eight scholarships at Rs. 30 each and the discontinuance of four pupil teacherships at Rs. 10 per mensem each. Provision has been made for these scholarships, subject, of course, to the approval of the Legislative Council, and I feel sure that, the Hon’ble Minister, who is here to-day, will, after seeing the work of the School, use all his well-known persuasive powers to secure that approval. I wish I could tell you that other provision was possible and had been made, but unfortunately the present financial situation is absolutely prohibitive of such assurances”
Referring at length to the Painting and Modelling Classes, His Excellency continued:—“In these two classes, as in all the others, the School of Art has shown its great determination to proceed upon sound national lines. I have always held that successful art in India must be national and must be backed by national enthusiasm, and in what I have seen of the work of the School lately I have been most favourably impressed by the distinctly Indian character which shows strongly in all its productions. It is most encouraging also to see that this “Indianisation” has not taken the form of a return to a hide-bound convention, but is acquiring a real sense of form and colour, and at the same time developing the decorative instinct, which is so strongly national in character.
In all this I see the forecast of great developments in the future-developments of which the students of the School may take pride that they … are the pioneers and forerunners.”
The policy of Indianisation thus encouraged by the distinguished speaker and fortified by the new Government Scholarships continued to make such rapid progress throughout the following year that on the 27th of the ensuing February, Sir George Lloyd in opening the Exhibition of Students’ work was able to tell an even more crowded audience: “I do not think that any doubt remains now in the minds of the experts or of the general public that the objective towards which your Principal has elected to work is the right one; that the true work of the modern Indian Artist is to revive the ancient and national methods of artistic expression and to revitalise and restore them. That this is his true work is shown by the progress that is being made, and the artistic success that is being achieved by those who in this School are working to that end. That is to my mind the most important proof, indeed the only one worth having: for successful artistic work cannot be achieved without inspiration, and inspiration can come only when the artist is working on lines natural to him, and endeared by inheritance and tradition. It is for this reason that I am not disposed to be very much impressed by analogies imported from overseas, and though I admit the significance of the revival of Mural Painting which is occurring elsewhere, I still think that for India its special importance lies in the artistic success which is being achieved by it.
And then for the opportunities available; let me say first that I welcome the invitation you have given me to-day particularly for the occasion it gives me for saying something to you on this all important subject. A year ago I said to you that national enthusiasm was one of the principal requirements for your success. And by that I did not mean mere verbal protestations of encouragement but real and practical patronage and support. In Poona last year I had occasion to state publicly the urgent need that existed for such support, and to point out the method by which the rich public of this Presidency could show their love for their country and assist in recording the culture of their time for the benefit of posterity. I am still of the same opinion and I would again impress upon the rich public of Bombay how vast is the scope and how great the need for their assistance in this matter.
But the greatest opportunity of all is the one which your Principal has mentioned at length in his report. And let me assure you at once that I have supported and shall continue to support as strongly as possible your desire to be admitted to a part in the decoration of New Delhi. I cannot believe that those who are responsible for the construction of the new capital of India, in which the Legislative Assembly of India, and the Council of State will soon be nobly housed, will deny to the revival of Indian Art, struggling as it is against overwhelming difficulties, the opportunity which it so badly needs, deprived of which it may well sink back into the comparative obscurity in which it has lain for too long.
No one can decry the quality of the work of the Indian Art student to-day, which, as your Principal says, can stand comparison with that of the best students of Europe; or deny that in New Delhi lies a field for utilisation of that quality to which every argument points. And if they contend that to utilise trained artists of repute, for this work would be better for Indian Art as giving it a model upon which to work, then I think they are wrong in not seeing that it is only works of art upon Indian lines which can serve as an inspiration to Indian students, and that in reality they will gain nothing by depriving you of this wonderful opportunity.”
This ringing declaration by the Governor of Bombay of his support of the long-cherished desire of Indian Artists to be the painters of the walls of their New Capital marked the beginning of a new epoch for the School and for India; heralding the near rising of the Sun after the long—the more than Arctic Night!
- 1. The Life Classes were inaugurated in December 1919