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

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Item Code: HAQ292
Author: Robert L. Hardgrave
Publisher: Mapin Publishing Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 2004
ISBN: 8188204153
Pages: 568 (Colour and B/W Illustrations)
Other Details 12.5x9.5 inch
Weight 2.93 kg
Book Description

Over the course of my research on François Balthazar Solvyns, a great many people have given me assistance in pursuit of elusive words and images, in ferreting out information, resolving anomalies, and in finding the correct Bengali, Hindustani, Sanskrit. or Persian word for what in Solvyns's description was by no means always clear. I shall be forever grateful for their help, without which this work could never have been completed. Because of their number. I list them by country and alphabetically. I offer my apologies to any persons I may have inadvertently left out, for I am no less grateful for their assistance. If I have made errors in fact or judgment, they are wholly my own. I only pray they are not egregious. My thanks go to:

In India: Hena Basu, Falguna Sakha Bose, Hiren Chakrabarti, Ramakanta Chakrabarty, Niladri Chatterjee, Shubha Chaudhuri, Uma Dasgupta, Barun De. Pheroza Godrej, H. C. Gupta, the late R. P. Gupta, Jyotindra Jain, T. N. Madan, Jagmohan Mahajan, Somendra Chandra Nandy, Pran Nevile, the late Nisith Ranjan Ray, Nikhil Sarkar, Sandip Sarkar, Aditi Sen, Pradip Sinha.


The Flemish artist François Balthazar Solvyns (1760-1824), who lived in Calcutta (Kolkata) from 1791 to 1803, is little known, but his collection of etchings of the Hindus constructs a rich and compelling image of India two hundred years ago. These prints. Depicting the people of Bengal in their occupations, festivals, and daily life, and the accompanying descriptive test, have rarely been referred to by historians of India. Indeed. for most historians, Solvyns was apparently unknown-or at least "unseen-and no systematic use of his work had been made until, in the late 1980s, I initiated the current project with a long article, co-authored by a colleague in ethnomusicology, on Solvyns's portrayal of musical instruments.

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. Solvyns worked as something of a journeyman artist, but in 1794, he 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 Casts, 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. In IS03, Solvyns left India for France and soon redid the etchings for a folio edition of 288 plates, Les Hindous, published in Paris between 1808 and 1812 in four volumes. Even these sumptuous volumes failed commercially, victim to the unrest of the Napoleonic Wars and to the sheer cost of the publication. When the Kingdom of the Netherlands was formed in 1814, Solvyns returned to his native Antwerp, where William I appointed him Captain of the Port in recognition of his accomplishments as an artist.

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