Three Anglo-Indian Carved Wood Panels
These panels, which in the style and quality of carving, are most likely the work of the Ahmedabad Wood Carving Company, were probably made to fit into doors for a large cabinet or sideboard, or possibly as wall-paneling. Each of rectangular form, carved in relief on one side, with elaborate cusped ‘horseshoe’ arch and paired lotus rosette roundels above, two carved with interwoven arabesque trellis design under the arch and spandrels with naturalistic leaf-scrolls, the other with tiers of repeated alternating palmette merlons under the arch and stylised leafy trellis spandrels. Similar are the doors to a sideboard exhibited at the 1886 Indian and Colonial Exhibition in London (Raymond Head, The Indian Style, London 1986, fig.74, p.102). The Carnegie Mansion in New York, which now houses the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, was paneled and furnished by the same Ahmedabad craftsmen a few years later. As well as finished furniture, the company also produced individual carved panels which could be used as samples or as stock for interior decoration (Robert Mayer, Lockwood de Forest: Furnishing the Gilded Age with a Passion for India, Newark 2008, pl.47, p.66).
The second half of the 19th century saw a resurgence of Indian crafts which followed a difficult period for artisans resulting from a loss of the traditional sources of patronage amongst India’s aristocracy, who had increasingly turned to imported goods from Europe. Craftsmen themselves began to adapt their output, producing goods which would appeal to British and European buyers. To some extent, this change of direction was encouraged by the British colonial authorities who had noticed the interest shown in Indian exhibits at the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the government art schools which sprung up in the major cities such as the Mayo School of Art in Lahore became important centres of excellence. At the same time, Indian and European entrepreneurs started to eye up export opportunities in order to capitalise on this change of tastes in the West. A particularly successful enterprise was that of the American artist and designer, Lockwood de Forest and the Jain businessman from Ahmedabad, Muggenbhai Hutheesing, who together founded the Ahmedabad Wood Carving Company. Inspired by the historic monuments of the city of Ahmedabad as well as others further afield, they produced exquisitely carved furniture which was western in function yet Indian in style and detailing. The type of distinctive lobed arch seen on these panels, ultimately derived from Hindu and Jain toranas, was readily adopted by Islamic rulers as an embellishment for the Persian pointed arch and typical early examples can be seen in the Deccan, such as inside the tomb of Ghiyath ud-Din in Gulbarga (c.1397). Later, in Mughal North India, a more delicate form of lobed arch became widespread in the 17th century. However, it seems likely that these wood panels drew on sources closer to home; Hutheesing’s father had established a Jain temple in Ahmedabad which was completed by his mother in 1848, built in the typically eclectic style associated with the city, now an important monument in the city. Outside the sanctum are very similar near-identical arches with rosette spandrels (see illustration).
Photograph: Colonnade in the Hutheesing Jain Temple, Ahmedabad, completed 1848 (Photo: Stéphane Passet / Public Domain)