Sunday, 29 January 2017

Lockwood Kipling:From London to Lahore.

Rather annoyingly you're not allowed to take photos in the V&A's rather grand, and free, exhibition Lockwood Kipling:Arts and Crafts in the Punjab and London. Then again it was so artefact heavy it'd have been a problem narrowing down just what to snap.

John Lockwood Kipling (1837-1911) is probably more famous these days as the father of Rudyard but during the Victorian era he was a renowned designer, illustrator, creator, teacher, and journalist. The Arts and Crafts movement (against industrialisation and for craftsmanship) of the time shaped his career and he was very much a product of his times.

Born in North Yorkshire his visit to the Great Exhibition in London in 1851 inspired him to train as a designer and modeller. A particular highlight for him was the Indian section and many of the Indian objects were later bought for the V&A, then called the South Kensington Museum. When he moved to London eight years later Kipling used the training he'd received in the Staffordshire potteries to help with the museum's architectural decoration. If you've ever sat out by the lovely garden and pond there you'll have seen his work.

The exhibition is broken up into various sections relating to different places he lived and worked. In 'South Kensington' we're given carpets, textiles, scarves, shawls, plates, arms, armour, spice boxes, and helmets. Each item as lovingly created and detailed as the other.

In 'Bombay' one can ponder drawings of local crafts people, jail carpets, a wooden toy monkey, turban cloths, and photos of the city now known as Mumbai. To my British eyes it's a far more exotic selection but equally delightful and intricate.

Kipling had moved to India in 1865 and it was where he'd spend most of his professional career. It was an unstable time for the subcontinent and the Raj sought to assert its control in many ways. Hardly the worst was its use of commercial design but even that came with problems. Factories in the Midlands would create objects with the Indian style decoration that had already become enormously popular in the UK. These cheaper mass produced  goods were sent over to India for sale damaging local markets.

Kipling, living there with wife Alice and the infant Rudyard, was teaching architectural sculpture at Sir J J School of Art and Industry in the city and there he and others controversially added Indian motifs and styles to European designs. It was a more delicate attempt at incorporation than the factories back in the old country and would appear to have come more from the heart than the wallet. That's how the V&A are telling it, anyway.

The Bombay of Kipling's day was expanding rapidly. The American Civil War had seriously damaged that nation's cotton industry and Bombay had become the world's leading cotton exporter. This meant lots of new buildings - and lots of commissions for Kipling.

Whilst the older cities of Calcutta and Madras had favoured neoclassical architecture the new buildings springing up across the Marathi capital generally favoured the Gothic Revival style (as you can see below).

After a decade in Bombay Kipling was appointed principal of the Mayo School of Industrial Art in Lahore and Chief Curator at the Lahore Central Museum. There are a couple of fascinating films on show where you can take a bird's eye view of the architecture of both Mumbai and Lahore. It's interesting to compare and contrast the differences between the two cities.

Lahore had been the ancient Punjabi capital but in 1849 it'd been annexed by the East India Company. Big businesses pretty much create their own laws these days but at least they don't actually invade countries any more! Don't need the bad publicity I suppose.

The specimens on show in 'Lahore' are, possibly, the most fascinating of all. Popular prints and photos of the time, drawings of the mosque of Wazir Khan, a wedding chest, supposedly humorous doodles (guess you had to be there at the time), and moralising cutlery crudely illustrated by Indian stereotypes.

Whilst in India Kipling had become the go to guy for the world fairs that followed on in the wake of the Great Exhibition. He curated shows from Glasgow to Melbourne to Paris to Calcutta. The lacquered boxes, armlets, and armchairs that make up this small part of the retrospective are a little lacking in comparison to the rooms given over to the cities in Kipling's life but, again, there's no dip in the level of craftsmanship.

Ill health eventually forced his return to the UK where, in retirement, Kipling and his colleague Bhai Ram Singh, a former student in Lahore, received two royal commissions. A billiards room in Bagshot Park, Surrey and the banqueting hall of Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. Handy for the garlic festival. He also collaborated often with his now grown up son Rudyard including providing the illustrations for Kim.

He died in 1911 and is buried in the Wiltshire village of Tisbury. This was an eye opening, if occasionally a little dry, look at a man whose work I'd appreciated and enjoyed many times but had never actually heard of. Surely exactly the kind of service a museum should be providing.

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