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A Portrait of the Hindus : Balthazar Solvyns and the European Image of India 1760-1824

Robert L. Hardgrave, Oxford University Press, 2004, 568 p, plates, ISBN : 0195220412, $176.00 (Includes free airmail shipping)

A Portrait of the Hindus : Balthazar Solvyns and the European Image of India 1760-1824/Robert L. Hardgrave

Contents: I. Francois Balthazar Solvyns Life and Work : Acknowledgments. Introduction. 1. From Antwerp to Calcutta: a Flemish Artist in India. 2. Return to Europe: Les Hindous. 3. Balthazar Solvyns, Artist and Orientalist. 4. Les Hindous: preliminary discourse. II. A Portrait of the Hindus : 1. Solvyns's Calcutta. 2. Castes and occupations. 3. Dresses of Hindu men and of Hindu women. 4. Servants of the European household in Calcutta. 5. Fakirs and religious mendicants. 6. Musical instruments. 7. Festivals and ceremonies. 8. Sati. 9. Modes of smoking and c. 10. Modes of conveyance. 11. Boats of Bengal. 12. Natural history: plants and animals. Indian heads. Appendix I. Solvyns in libraries. Bibliography. Index and Glossary.

"The Flemish Artist Francois Balthazar Solvyns (1760-1824) is little known, but his series of etchings of the Hindus provide a rich and compelling portrait of India two hundred years ago. With commitment of faithful representation and with the sensibilities of an astutely observant artist, Solvyns portrays the people of India in their occupations, festivals and cultural life with immediacy and sympathy.

Solvyns was born in Antwerp in 1760, of a prominent merchant family, and had pursued a career as a marine painter until political unrest in Europe and his own insecure position led him to seek his fortune in India. Following his arrival in Calcutta in 1791, he worked as something of a journeyman artist, but in 1794, Solvyns announced his plan for A Collection of Two Hundred and Fifty Coloured Etchings: Descriptive of the Manners, Customs and Dresses of the Hindoos. The collection was published in Calcutta in a few copies in 1796, and then in greater numbers in 1799. Divided into twelve parts, the first section, with 66 prints, depicts "the Hindoo Castes, with their professions." Following sections portray servants, costumes, means of transportation (carts, palanquins, and boats), modes of smoking, fakirs, musical instruments, and festivals. The project proved a financial failure. The etchings, by contemporary European standards, were rather crudely done, and they did not appeal to the vogue of the picturesque -- that quest for wild, unkempt beauty -- that dominated the market for prints. . . ." (jacket)

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