Transnationality in the Nineteenth-Century: Decolonising Networks of Exchange, Circulation and Exhibition

Gursimran Oberoi, University of Surrey, Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village,, @GursimOberoi

Sarah French, University of Sussex, Hastings Museum & Art Gallery,, @sjfrenchie

Despite increasing interest in the fields of global and transnational studies in the humanities, the production, collecting, and display of visual and material culture across the British Empire and its protectorates is still often misunderstood as one-directional. A reliance on western archival sources, that are inevitably entangled within the powers and legacies of empire and colonisation, support this claim. Yet, if we broaden the scope of our research and engage with sources beyond Britain, we inevitably uncover a multiplicity of records, viewpoints, experiences and mobilities engaging objects and associated meanings in alternate ways from imperialism. This panel builds on scholarship into Orientalism, and the seminal texts Transculturation in British Art, 1770-1930 edited by Julie F. Codell and Art History in the Wake of the Global Turn co-edited by Jill H. Casid and Aruna D’Souza. It takes into consideration and extends the discussions taking place in newly established research networks, such as Race, Empire and the Pre-Raphaelites: Decolonising Victorian Art and Design through Museum Collections and Practice. This panel considers how transnational networks of object exchange, circulation and exhibition between Britain and other countries worked in dual dialogue, and emerged on an individual level during the course of the mid-to-late nineteenth century. We are particularly interested in bearing witness to the experiences of different peoples who engaged in these processes with reference to their personal heritage or with British art as part of a growing effort to decolonise Victorian art studies. Through the course of presentations and discussions, this panel aims to demonstrate how art’s histories can provide a vital contribution to the field of transnationalism.

Speakers & Abstracts

Trophies of Empire: Exotic Props in Two Paintings by John Everett Millais

Dr Ian Dudley (University of Essex)

This paper investigates previously unexamined links between the Indigenous peoples of Guyana and the artists John Everett Millais (1829–96) and Edward Angelo Goodall (1819–1908) within the context of nineteenth-century British Imperialism. It describes how a range of Indigenous artworks collected by Goodall while working as the illustrator of a colonial boundary survey of what was then British Guiana during the 1840s became the basis for two iconic Millais paintings: Pizarro Seizing the Inca of Peru (1846) and The Boyhood of Raleigh (1870). Close object identifications using written and pictorial expedition sources combined with anthropological literature and British Museum collection records, highlight connections between Millais’s production and histories of British colonial expansion in the Guyana region alongside transnational networks of imperial ethnography and philanthropy, through which Indigenous peoples and artworks circulated. Particular attention is paid to a featherwork headdress, which appears in both paintings, but is typically misidentified as a basket in The Boyhood of Raleigh, and consequently not recognized as the same object used for the Inca imperial crown in the earlier work. These visible and material connections are considered in relation to Raleigh’s fantastical writings, which linked Guyana to Peru via El Dorado mythology, and informed his historiographic reconstruction as an icon of British imperialist masculinity during the 1840s-60s. By transferring 19th century Indigenous objects into 16th century pictorial settings, Millais obscured their immediate colonial and authorial contexts, establishing a pattern of erasure that has continued within museum display and art historical discourses surrounding the paintings.

An Investigation of Identity and the Metonymic Gap in Early Twentieth Century Landscape Paintings

Priyantha Udagedara (University of Colombo, Sri Lanka)

This study explores the representation of landscape by Sri Lankan painters during the first half of the twentieth century. The European convention of landscape paintings permeated during the colonial occupation and there was no impartial tradition of landscape painting evident in the pre-colonial period in Sri Lanka. The tradition became popular due to the introduction of Victorian education under British colonial rule. In this regard depiction of landscape in easel paintings by local artists had a short history. Local artists who received artistic training under colonial education revealed an aesthetic taste similar to that of British colonial masters, during this period. These images can be valued as the first visual representations of the native landscape by local artists. Upon closer investigation it is evident that these works exemplify the metonymic gap. That is the cultural gap created due to the appropriation of new cultural practices and forms over in colonized societies. This happens when creative processes, languages, artistic methods or concepts are unfamiliar to users. This metonymic gap is evident in the area of landscape painting as the artists uncritically imitate or depend on western aesthetic forms. In order to question this cultural gap, the researcher discusses and constructively analyses selected landscape images by the early twentieth century Sri Lankan artists to evaluate the question of representation of identity in landscape paintings.   

The Narrative of a Playing Card Deck in Nineteenth-Century Lima

Daen Palma Huse (University College London)

Nineteenth-century Lima experienced an influx of European creatives that migrated to Peru’s capital. This paper uses the example of a miniature playing card deck produced by the lithographers Fabbri Hermanos, Lima, for the tobacco brand El Perú by Roldan y Compañia in c. 1890, to complicate the nature of transnational exchange that spans across the colonial period and the republican era of Peru. Carlos Fabbri of the Fabbri brothers that emigrated to Peru from Italy, is newly identified as the artist of the motifs of the cards. The card deck shows European influences in motif and printing technique but assumes a performative role specific to its Peruvian postcolonial context as image, text and object. Featuring a woman as the protagonist dressed in French style clothing of the time, interacting with several male characters, the cards are characterized by narrative motifs combined with text in question and answer format. Miniature inserts of playing cards of the traditional Spanish Cadiz-style playing card suits combine with text and depictions as cartoon-like satirical representations. Researching across the British Museum and the Fournier Museum in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain, where cards with similar designs and content are housed, has raised questions about production, collecting, as well as contemporary display and study of visual and material culture including and extending beyond the British Empire and its protectorates. This case study highlights the relevance of assessing different postcolonial contexts in an effort to expand decolonial approaches, and contribute to the field of transnationalism.

Republic of Characters: a global social network centred on Hong Kong Type in the nineteenth century

Yun Xie (Utrect University)

In 2019, a set of nineteenth-century Chinese metal matrices was discovered in the Museum of Ethnology (Museum Volkenkunde) warehouse in Leiden, the Netherlands. The Chinese typefaces embedded in the matrices were designed in Hong Kong, hence the name Hong Kong Type. These typefaces cast by these matrices printed various publications, with profound influence on the development of Sinology and Japanese studies in the Netherlands. However, they have received disproportionately little attention in their own right: their provenance has yet to be verified, and few past studies and reference books address it, let alone its significances, either in the past or present.

This paper examines the birth and development of Hong Kong typefaces, the reason to be brought to The Netherlands and their typographical application in Dutch publishing. Taking the Hong Kong typefaces and their archives in the Dutch collection as a departure, this paper addresses an understudied research perspective in the history of the nineteenth-century Chinese metallic typefaces: the active social contact in the type designers worldwide, which was in the past research primarily neglected. This paper will argue that during the production of Hong Kong types, typefounders worldwide shared their views on Chinese type design through intellectual exchanges such as correspondence, visits and publications, which have significantly influenced, directly or indirectly, the design and application of Hong Kong Type. I call this social network “the Republic of Characters”. Over time, the involvement of non-European participants made this social network increasingly diverse.

The Art of the Great Game: Russian Response to British Colonial Narrative

Alex Ulko (CCA Lab, Arts and Culture Development Foundation, Tashkent, Uzbekistan)

The impact of British colonial art was not confined to the British Empire. I will discuss how British colonial narrative influenced Russian policies in Central Asia and how this inter-imperial dialogue was reflected in art based on two examples of such interaction: the photographic Turkestan Album (1870) and the Turkestan (1873) and Indian (1884) series of paintings by Vassily Vereshchagin.

The former was commissioned by the Governor-General of Turkestan to ‘show the benefits of the Russian rule’ and was issued in six large volumes. According to Heather Sonntag, it had ‘precedent outside the Russian empire, beginning with Governor-General John Canning, who commissioned the Peoples of India (1856-1874).’ I will juxtapose these two works as well as photographic series by Felix Beato and Samuel Bourne to identify common trends of colonial representation.

Vereshchagin’s paintings can be seen as a counterargument aimed at the British audience (as the artist admitted in his foreword to the catalogue of his exhibition in Munich). An active participant in the subjugation of Samarkand and Bukhara in 1868, he also followed the familiar imperial narrative of self-victimisation mixed with Oriental exoticism typical of the Company (Patna) style. His works resonate with the paintings by John Griffith and David Wilkie but are different in tone and message. It reaches its culmination in Vereshchagin’s controversial painting Persecution of Sepoy (1884). I conclude that the Russian artistic response to the English colonial narrative was motivated by a contradictory desire to imitate it on the one hand and to provide a convincing objection on the other.



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