Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Watercolours of Lalbagh

If you thought that Lalbagh is only about flowers, plants, shrubs and trees, you could not be more wrong.
There are so many spots to pick in Lalbagh that it would boggle your mind. The Lalbagh Rock, for example, is a geological wonder. The Kempe Gowda tower atop the hill has a history of its own.
The mango trees planted by Tipu Sultan gives us a touch of history as would the Pigeon Dovecot. The nursery is a place where you can buy a variety of plants and flowering trees. The floral clock, fossils, Bonsai garden, Bamboo shoots, Cacti house, silk cotton trees and the Glass house are unforgettable experiences even to a seasoned visitor.
However, apart from all these things, what sets out Lalbagh from other botanical gardens is that it can spring a surprise from the most unlikely places. It is as if each nook and corner has a history of its won and this percolates to the buildings too.
Did you know that Lalbagh today has more than a thousand paintings and they are from 1887 onwards. And mind you, they are al botanical paintings.
The Department of Horticulture, Lalbagh, and Bangalore Environment Trust have recently restored and catalogued 1020 rare botanical paintings and they form water colour illustrations, pencil sketches, ink drawings and lithographic prints.
The paintings are by several artists and they were done between 1887 and 1949. The drawings were commissioned primarily to document plants, trees and fruits found in or considered important for the Mysore Kingdom and not only Lalbagh.
Some of these drawings had weathered, faded and were attacked by silverfish. A few had become faded. They have all been now restored, scanned, catalogued and published in three volumes - two volumes of watercolour illustrations and a third comprises pencil sketches.
The complete restoration and cataloguing of the paintings was done with the help of Archival Resources for Contemporary History (ARCH), an archival consultancy service belonging to  Srishti School of Arts, Design and Technology.
The Horticulture Department has planned to exhibit these paintings.
The books is attributed to Bangalore Environment Trust (BET) which in turn has made several recommendations to the department like permanently exhibiting some of the framed paintings in a hall in Lalbagh and using scanned copies for all practical work.
It has also suggested that the three volumes should be kept for permanent sale. BET feels that these books along with a book on Lalbagh should be published and displayed for sale during the international conference on botanical art.
The paintings are currently stored in wooden cupboards in the office of the department. Some of the botanical illustrations go back to the period of Tipu Sultan.  
In 1799, Benjamin Hayne took charge of the gardens following orders of Lord Wellesley. Dr Heyne was a naturalist and a medical officer with the Topographical survey of Mysore. During the surveys, he collected economic, demographic, botanical, geographical and cultural data of Lalbagh.
Wellesley personally instructed Heyne to take charge of  Tipu’s  Cypress Gardens. He wanted the Gardens to be transformed into a botanical garden and developed as a depository of useful plants sent from different parts of the country.
Botanical illustrations became very important with the publication of systems of botanical nomenclature in the eighteenth century. Heyne was keen in training native artists in identifying and illustrating characteristics of plants. Though none of the paintings of his period have survived, the illustrations commissioned by John Cameron, the Superintendent of Lalbagh from 1874 to 1908 have survived.
Cameron set up a post of an artist at the Gardens at a salary of Rs 25 per month. The illustrations do not merely include plants and flowers from Lalbagh but a wide variety of  fruits and vegetables grown in India.
Would you believe it that the local coriander of Kotambari Soppu is illustrated. Many of the illustrations are by K. Cheluva Raju, an artist. Cameroon has himself endorsed some of Raju’s paintings.
The last painting was in 1949. After this time, photographs become the norm and paintings vanished.

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