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‘More to Kipling than Jungle Book and cakes’ – new V&A exhibition chronicling work of Lockwood Kipling (Rudyard’s father) in Mumbai and Lahore

‘More to Kipling than Jungle Book and cakes’ – new V&A exhibition chronicling work of Lockwood Kipling (Rudyard’s father) in Mumbai and Lahore

January 14 2016

A major figure of the time, he became something of a champion for the arts and crafts of the subcontinent as a new exhibition unveils…

HE IS BARELY known today – except by those who know his son far better.

Lockwood Kipling was one of the central figures of the arts and culture scene in Victorian Britain but today only his son, the author and poet, Rudyard is remembered, while Lockwood has been quietly consigned to history.

Maybe it was because he spent much of his life in Bombay (as it was then, now Mumbai) and Lahore and left behind a rich legacy that has been more immediately profound in those cities than anywhere else.

Just some of the art works Lockwood Kipling acquired for the V&A includes an ancient Buddha portrait

Now a major free exhibition, which is open from today, at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) aims to put him centre stage again and reconnect him to the museum he was once central in establishing.

It is, as Julius Bryant, co-curator of “Lockwood Kipling: Arts and Crafts in the Punjab and London“, said in his introductory remarks at a press view earlier this week: “There’s more to Kipling than ‘Jungle Book’ and cakes*.”

The Keeper of Word & Image at the V&A went on to tell “The surprising thing for me was that when I went to Lahore a couple of times – the most recent being last January – they know exactly who Lockwood Kipling is.

“Kipling in Lahore means Lockwood Kipling. His portrait hangs in the main museum of Pakistan in Lahore (City Museum) and he is revered as the founding director of the art school (known as the Mayo School of Art then, now Pakistan’s National College of Arts).”

Bryant said that Mayo also bore the heavy influence of Lockwood and his time there as its first director.

“When I met the principal of the art school in his office, there above his desk was another portrait and he told me very proudly that every student who comes to be interviewed for admission has Lockwood Kipling looking at them, so they are very familiar with him in Lahore.”

Lockwood was a public intellectual and in newspapers, he was often reported as being in diasgreement with other writers and artists, such as William Morris and John Ruskin.

His own interest in Indian arts and crafts had been inspired by seeing exhibits at 1851 Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace as young man and learning design and sculpture.

The exhibition was one of the earliest and most famous displays ever mounted in Britain, and introduced the public and others to the skill and imagination of Indian artists and craftsmen and women. Some of these exhibits were acquired by the V&A, which began its life as the South Kensington Museum.

Lockwood Kipling was undoubtedly influenced by the buildings around them and saw the blend of Gothic and Indian architecture favourably, as seen here in a 19th century painting of what is still Mumbai's main railway station, still popularly known as 'VT'(Victoria Terminus, rather than the official Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus

Lockwood actually worked for the V&A as an architectural sculptor and some of his design work can still be seen in the gardens.

In 1865, Lockwood left London for Bombay, such was his passion and interest in Indian arts and crafts.

A battle had been raging in London about the future of Indian arts and handicrafts – most were pessimistic about it.

“The Great Exhibition in 1851 had excited British manufacturers who said we can copy this and rip it straight off and it will work very well on our machines,” Bryant explained.

s a consequence, there was a flood of cheap imitation items inspired by Indian art and design and India’s own artisan community was in decline.

“They were dying out – the maharajahs’ (who were the patrons) own future was uncertain and some conservationist intellectuals like Lockwood felt something should be done,” Bryant pointed out.

He said Lockwood was a practical man and he later acted as something of a salesman for Indian arts and crafts.

There were many exhibitions around the world showing off work on a global scale and Morris made sure the work of artists on the sub-continent were seen widely.

“He was a sort of salesman for Indian crafts and he really tries to change perceptions and that’s what’s most valuable today,” concluded Bryant to

An intricately patterned door retrieved by Lockwood Kipling for the V&A

In Bombay, Lockwood taught at the Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy School of Art (JJ School of Art) and mixed with Indian artists and craftsmen, and there seems to have been a healthy dialogue.

In 1875, Lockwood moved to Lahore and was Principal of the new Mayo School of Art and the curator of the adjoining museum. He remained there until his return to England in 1893, and remained here until his death in 1911.

During his time on the subcontinent, he collected many art works and artefacts for the V&A and some of these are on display, along with much of his own work inspired by his time there.
There also short loop films of the places he is most associated with – Mumbai and Lahore.

The exhibition has been co-curated with Dr Susan Weber, director of the Bard Graduate Center, New York. The exhibition will transfer to its exhibition space in New York from September 15-February 4 2018. This V&A exhibition is supported by the Friends of the V&A.

Review: It’s a fascinating window into a different time and the loop films are beautifully shot and give a real sense of place to an exhibition which shows just how close Britain and India were at a time. It is a rich history that we should all treasure and while the brutal thrust of the colonial project may still hang heavy, Lockwood showed at least a way forward, (even if he didn’t wholly endorse it as Victorian with his own prejudices) – built on mutual respect and admiration and his legacy is one that continues to bewitch and transfix artists and an interested public alike everywhere. (Sailesh Ram)
ACV rating:**** (out of five)

Main picture: The Durbar Hall as created by Lockwood for Queen Victoria at her summer home of Osborne; portrait of Lockwood and Rudyard; general view from middle of the exhibition.
All pictures from press view ©

*Kipling is popular brand of cakes in Britain

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‘Lockwood Kipling: Arts & Crafts in the Punjab and London’ (Free) Until April 2
The V&A Musuem, Cromwell Rd, Knightsbridge, London SW7 2RL. Daily: 10.00 – 17.45; Fridays: 10.00 – 22.00

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture


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