Laying firm foundations of the institution during 18 years of service

Bhai Ram Singh working in the Durbar Hall, Osborne House, on the Isle of Wight, England
Bhai Ram Singh working in the Durbar Hall, Osborne House, on the Isle of Wight, England


Kipling [here] demonstrates the notion held by British colonial officials regarding ‘native’ indolence. The value judgments and stereotypes he adopted regarding pupil behaviour was of course one part of the wider desire to inculcate western notions of design, while paying mere lip service to indigenous influences.

Those students who were rewarded [,] with [their] prizes reflected not so much their natural talent, but their ability to utilise this to mimic western cultural and design sensitivities. The year 1889 once again brought accolades in this respect to the School when the pen drawing of Munshi Sher Muhammad won the prize at the Bombay Art Exhibition. Another student of the modelling class, John David, also won Bombay Art Society’s medal for a portrait bust in terra cotta. Architectural drawings by Bhai Ram Singh too found a place in ‘commended’ and ‘highly commended’ categories, which was no mean feat. This student was to later assist Kipling in the ultimate imperial commission of decorating the Darbar Room at Queen Victoria’s Osborne House residence on the Isle of Wight.

Sita Ram, another Mayo student, was also successful at the Bombay Art Exhibition winning an ‘Ava’ for a coloured architectural drawing. During the same year, Gurdit Singh won the Lala Karm Chand jubilee prize of Rs25 for his architectural drawing. Besides, the Marquis of Dufferin awarded the silver medal to the School.

The accolades of the Mayo School of Arts continued to accrue under Lockwood Kipling’s headship and his legacy lasted many generations after him. Kipling proceeded on furlough of 18 months until he was replaced as principal by his assistant Frederick Henry Andrews who had recently arrived from England.

However one must not be led to believe that all was hunky dory in the Mayo School and it made unimpeded progress. In fact MSA was marred with several problems and many of those problems persisted for quite a long time. One complaint that lingered on till 1890 was the inability of the students to read and write. Therefore, the instruction in the general education (reading writing and arithmetic) was provided to the students especially of second division, in addition to their ordinary work in Geometry, drawing and carving. Yet another complaint was about the rate of dropouts at a very early stage. A plausible explanation for the fathers’ decision to “withdraw their boys at too early a period” may lie in the growing employment opportunities for students with even a mere smattering of art instruction.

Sita Ram, Amar Singh, Mehr Singh, Jetha Singh and from the batch of 1890-91 Uttam Singh, John David found teaching assignments at different places. Similarly, Girdhari Lal took up the profession of photography; Abdullah and Duni Chand from succeeding session found employment as draftsmen at the local Municipality.

From January 1891 the practice of surveying was introduced which proved to be of great advantage to young men seeking employment in subordinate rungs of the Public Works and other departments. Unsurprisingly, this course was soon well subscribed. In October, new apartments were handed over to the School. They had been designed by Lockwood Kipling and Bhai Ram Singh and erected by Lala Ganga Ram, Executive Engineer. Kipling was very satisfied as the work had been done according to his wishes.

Bhai Ram Singh had returned to the Punjab after three years in England where, as noted earlier, he worked on Osborne House for Queen Victoria in December 1892. He had initially obtained only six months leave. He took up his old position at the Mayo School with the Queen-Empress’s praise ringing in his ears. She had expressed her immense pleasure and high approval of the ‘elaborate’ and ‘beautiful work’ that Bhai Ram Singh had done at Osborne. In his absence, Gurdit Singh, an advanced pupil and John Lawrence Scholarship-holder of the school, was appointed to officiate for him.

By the time of Kipling’s retirement, he had laid the firm foundations of an art institution during 18 years of service. Despite his criticisms of his pupils’ laziness, they had produced quality works of art and won numerous prizes. While his greatest protégé’s praise from Queen Victoria was unprecedented, officials in the colonial administration from governors down to district officials had lavished support and approbation on the Mayo School. Moreover, the School produced many art instructors who went to places like North West Provinces and Oudh, Allahabad, Faizabad, Lucknow, Bareilly, Meerut and Sind. Probably that was why J.C. Nesfield, Director of Public Instruction, North-West Provinces and Oudh came to Lahore to “learn the best way of introducing the teaching of drawing in the Schools of the North-West Provinces.”