The Changing World of Visual Arts

The History of Visual Arts

Did you know that recently in 2015 an untitled painting by V.S.Gaitonde sold for around 30 crores? In fact, India has always been known the world over for its rich culture and heritage which includes some stunning visual arts. Let us take a look at the history of visual arts in India and the world.

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Visual Arts

Art, in any form, be it a sculpture, a painting, or even a building or a monument is a treat to the eyes. Visual art is the art you can see, touch and feel in material form. In India, visual arts have a long history. But when European traders, rulers, and travellers came to India, they brought with them their thoughts and ideas of India.

This is reflected in the art forms of its time. And, because artists from the west wanted to depict India with their point of views, they introduced new conventions to Indian visual arts. As a result, the visual arts of India underwent a big change due to the colonial rule and its cultural influence on the society.

This article will help you understand the two main forms of visual arts that developed in India during and after the colonial period:

  • New forms of Imperial art
  • New Popular Indian Art

Imperial Art

visual arts

(Source: Wikipedia)

This art form started developing from the 18th century when Europeans artists travelled to India. They portrayed the country’s and its culture from the Western point of view. They introduced new techniques, styles and art forms like:


An art form where the image looks realistic. Colonial artists started recreating scenes from daily life, battles and important incidents of the British-ruled Indian society. This kind of visual art seemed more life-like due to the use of oil paints. This was something the earlier Indian art forms never used.

Picturesque Landscape Painting

Another area of interest for the colonial artists was the exquisite natural surroundings of India. By introducing picturesque landscape painting, they aimed at showcasing Britain’s new conquests, to the people back in Britain and other parts of Europe.

One such artist duo was Thomas Danielle and his nephew William Danielle. From 1785, they travelled for seven years, across Calcutta, parts of North India and South India. During this time they painted the rustic landscape, city life, and the British establishments.

Portrait Painting

This was another popular visual art form of colonial India. Unlike the traditional Indian style of miniature portraits, the paintings of the British period were larger than like and looked more realistic. This was certainly due to the interest of the rich and famous Indians and British individuals, who were keen to see themselves on canvas.

Most of the portrait paintings were a depiction of grandeur and social status of the elites of that time. Under their patronage, many European artists travelled all the way from Europe to India and were hired as commissioned artists.

History Painting

A significant art form, history painting had taken visual arts of Imperial India, to another level. The political strength and power of the British Raj made for a great subject for artists. Through visual representation, the artists depicted the accounts of battles, the victories, and supremacy of the monarchy.

One of the first such history paintings was by Francis Hayman in 1762. He painted the victory of the famous Battle of Plassey. The painting is on display at the Vauxhall Gardens in London, till date.

Court Art and Court Artists

During the time when Imperial art was developing in India, the visual arts by the court artists of its time also went through a big change. While some artists tried to incorporate the perspective and other styles in painting, the others continued with their traditional style. For example, the court of Tipu Sultan still portrayed the earlier style of miniature paintings, the courts of Mir Zafar and Mir Qasam encouraged a blend of colonial and traditional art forms.

Popular Indian Art

visual arts

(Source: Wikipedia)

Scroll Painting

In the wake of the 19th century, India saw a rise of an entirely new form of visual arts. This was vastly different and unique from the earlier art forms. In Bengal, for example, rural artists like scroll painters (patuas) and potters (kumors) started moving towards Calcutta and started a new trend. Flocking to the religious center- Kalighat, these artists established their haven.

While traditional scroll paintings had a flat affect, these migrated artists started giving a rounded form to their subjects. Almost all paintings in this new found art form were religious and centered on gods and goddesses. Furthermore, as the society around them started changing rapidly, the Kalighat artists included the social norms, cultures, and values of the new generation Calcutta.

The late 1800 scroll paintings depict the west-influenced men and women, their changing attire, culture, but most of all these in a satirical manner. Soon, these kinds of paintings were reproduced for popular consumption. That was probably when the concept of printing was introduced in this region. The images were engraved in wooden blocks and then transferred on paper, something like you might see today also, only with added technology.

And, eventually, by late 19th century, mechanical printing press found its way across different regions of the country, which allowed these artists to produce artworks in large volumes. Thus, visual arts became easily accessible to the common man.

National Art of India

By later 19th century, as the country was developing a strong sense of nationalism, artists also tried to add this sentiment to their visual arts. One of the first such artists was Raja Ravi Varma, who created a mix of modern and nationalist art. As a descendant of the royal family of Travancore, Kerala, his art forms depicted realistic, oil paintings of the royalties, as well as mythological stories.

In contrast, in Bengal, a group of nationalist artists led by Rabindranath Tagore, developed an art form without the Western influence. This arm of national visual arts focused on traditional miniature paintings and murals.

Solved Questions for You

Q1. What is portrait painting?

Ans. The visual art form of depicting a life-size image of a person is considered as portrait painting.

Q2. Name one famous Indian artist who popularized national art?

Ans. Raja Ravi Verma, a descendant of the royal family of Travancore, introduced a mix of modernism and patriotism to produce national art of that time.

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The Changing World of Visual Arts
  • The History of Visual Arts

One response to “The History of Visual Arts”

  1. Jacob Elordi says:

    Different cultures around the world have produced different types of art paintings. India has been the birthplace of many prominent artists whose works are recognized and treasured across the globe. Although each form of painting is special, you will be able to relate more to a specific form of art painting. It might be the thoughts or the way expressed. It might even be the use of colors.Thanks for the informative blog

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The Changing World of Visual Arts
  • The History of Visual Arts

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