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A Voyage East

Why Rudyard Kipling’s father is being feted by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Written by Pallavi Pundir |
Updated: March 19, 2017 12:00:14 am
lockwood kipling, rudyard kipling, london, victoria museum, albert museum, eye stories, lifestyle, indian express, indian express news Old world charm: a bracelet from Rajasthan.

It is not clear why exactly, in 1865, Lockwood Kipling, a young man of 28, with bright social and professional prospects in South Kensington, London, landed in Bombay. “We may never know the full story,” writes Julius Bryant, lead curator, Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), London, in a catalogue titled John Lockwood Kipling: Arts and Crafts in the Punjab and London (co-authored with Susan Weber, founder-director, Bard Graduate Center). “He embarked in 1865 with his (pregnant) wife for Bombay, with all the risks to their health that that decision entailed, just on the strength of a three-year contract to teach architectural sculpture. It may have been a simple case of economic opportunity, of ‘Go East, young man,’” he writes. The story of Lockwood is of interest to the history of Indian art — he was an artist, curator, teacher, journalist, and the father of the famous author, Rudyard Kipling. In London, Lockwood comes alive through an exhibition at the V&A, titled ‘Lockwood Kipling: Arts and Crafts in the Punjab’, where Bryant maps the journey of the man who documented the art and craft traditions of India for Western consumption.

“It began as a one-man exhibition on the things he made,” says Bryant, 58. “It soon expanded into a much bigger story of an Englishman working in India in the shadow of the first war of independence in 1857. Things were going horribly wrong and he was trying to build new bridges with Indian heritage and culture that the British people can understand.” The curator, who has been working on material surrounding Lockwood for the last 25 years, has, hence, timed the show to coincide with the 70th year of Indian Independence.

A sketch of a wood carver by Lockwood Kipling. (Source: Royal Collection Trust/Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016)

Lockwood’s fascination with Indian art and design, was propelled by a visit to the ‘Great Exhibition of 1851’, the first international exhibition of manufactured products at the Crystal Palace in London, where he came across colourful examples of Kashmiri shawls, saris from Benaras, wood and ivory carvings and so on. At the V&A, similar exhibits helm the gallery space, acquired from V&A’s own collection as well as Rudyard Kipling’s home-cum-museum, along with testimonies to Lockwood’s accomplishments such as his sculptures, sketches and acquisitions.

Lockwood’s early career in London saw him as a trainee sculptor and decorator in some of London’s more progressive architectural and design studios. “He attended part-time classes at the local schools of design. During the 13-14 early years of his career, he acquired a range of skills as a designer, modeler and sculptor, which prepared him for his first work in India as a teacher and a practitioner of architectural sculpture,” writes Bryant. At the time, the West had a few lessons on modern design from India through the writings of those such as architect Owen Jones (The Grammar of Ornament, 1856), historian John Ruskin, writer George Birdwood, and William Morris (whose studies and collection inspired the 2015 exhibition at the V&A, ‘The Fabric of India’).

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In 1865, when he moved to Bombay, the city had boomed — new railway lines and cotton trade was expanding. He had signed a three-year contract to teach ceramics and architectural sculpture at the newly founded Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy School of Art and Industry (now Sir JJ School of Art). “Founded in 1856, Bombay’s school of art was the third in a new network of British colonial art schools, after Madras (1853) and Calcutta (1854),” writes Bryant. Several commissions were doing the rounds to revive the Gothic style in Mumbai (most prominently, the Victoria Terminus, a picture of which features at the exhibition), and Kipling’s primary role was to contribute to the architectural decorations on some of those buildings.

A portrait of Lockwood’s colleague Bhai Ram Singh, painted by Rudolf Swoboda. (Source: Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

Another development in the country at the time was an increased investment in the historical research and ethnographic surveys, and it was this scope of research and surveys into crafts and trade that brought Kipling to remote villages across the country. He visited craftsmen at work in Shimla, Bombay, Delhi, Agra, Lucknow, and Amritsar, and drew sketches of, for instance, dyers in Kanpur or the wood-carvers in Simla. He also made drawings of looms and tools, making careful notes of the processes of manufacture. Significant out of his recordings were his series of sketches depicting cotton cultivation in western India, which travelled to the Vienna International Exhibition of 1873, one of the 28 international exhibitions he curated. “He created a heroic image of the modest Indian village craftsmen,” says Bryant.

It was in Lahore that a significant part of his career was spent, as the principal of the new school of art. He moved to the capital of Punjab in 1875 to “organise a School of Art in Lahore”. “That’s where we found most of the material for the exhibition too,” says Bryant. The National College of Arts in Lahore and the Lahore Museum still house his portraits. The story also steers briefly towards Kolkata, where, at the St Paul’s Cathedral, he designed the monument to John Paxton Norman. “In the registration book there, we found his entry where he described his newborn son, Rudyard, and described himself as an architectural sculptor,” says Bryant. And then there was Shimla, where he designed clothes for the Viceroy’s balls, and his wife dabbled in amateur theatre at the Gaiety Theatre. He retired in 1893 and moved back to England, where he worked as a book illustrator and designer until his death in 1911.

Lockwood with son, Rudyard. (Source: National Trust, Charles Thomas)

The exhibition also features his son, Rudyard. “After he retired, he worked with Rudyard. A lot in Kim and Jungle Book is really Lockwood’s memories of India. Rudyard left India when he was five and finished his education in England. He came back when he was 16. He only lived in India from the age of 16 to 24. Rudyard relied on his father for a lot of character and colour and anecdotes. Lockwood is obviously the man behind the Jungle Book,” says Bryant.

Lockwood’s other accomplishment was his final project, in collaboration with colleague Bhai Ram Singh (“Who went on to have his own career as an architect,” says Bryant), in which he created Indian-style rooms for the British royal family at Bagshot Park in Surrey and at Osborne, complete with artefacts and paintings. “Queen Victoria never went to India but India sort of came to her,” he says.

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