HYDERABAD: At a time when company style paintings were the prevalent visual language of Hindustan a young prince set foot upon the shores of Calcutta. With the skills of a painter and a deep passion for travel and exploring, Prince Waldemar of Prussia (1817 – 1849) visited the country “in line with the ‘knowledge project’ of the Enlightenment era.” Inspired by his mentor, Alexander von Humboldt, a renowned explorer and scholar of the Americas, the prince moved towards the northern region in 1844, to absorb and document the local landscape and cultural aspects.
Curated by Jutta Jain-Neubauer, Waldemar’s travel to India: Exhibition of Lithographs was held recently at Goethe Zentrum Hyderabad. When Prince Waldemar travelled to India, the artistic mood in Europe had shifted from ecclesiastical and secular patronage to the neo-bourgeoisie. Therefore, from the studios the artists of the 19th century came into the open where naturalism and eventually impressionism opened up fresh ideas of painting themes and techniques. It was also a moment in history when the Industrial Revolution was about to alter life in a major way in Europe. At the same time, the 19th century India was also going through a unique transformation. The British in India were not just stirring up the political history of this country but they also influenced the local art practices. And, the result was Company art. Local Indian artist were employed and to an extent trained by the British artists to document their colonial environment and their social presence.
Therefore, the documentation of Prince Waldemar in the form of drawings and watercolours, emerged as an interesting set of works as travelogues. These antiquated landscapes narrate the presence of mountains, forests, rivers, people and sometimes habitats. Every painting in the landscape category appears like a picture postcard that transports the viewer to a Utopian world.
Although, Prince Waldemar, came to India to discover the exotic Orient, he got drawn into the first Anglo-Sikh war of 1844-45 fought in the regions of Moodkee, Ferozeshah and Sabraon of Punjab. Some works in the display depicted the prince’s military experiences such as the battlefields, sieges at fort etc.
The reproduction of these paintings into lithographs is interesting. Two reckoned lithographers in Berlin, Ferdinand Bellermann and Hermann Kretzschmer, skillfully reproduced the artworks into lithos. Much later the Punjab Heritage and Tourism Promotion Board compiled the lithographs and reproduced the collection in the form of an album.