A decorative mosaic panel on the original facade of the V&A Museum, which is now a grand threshold for its cafe, shows a portrait of bearded John Lockwood Kipling. The terracotta panels visible on the exterior front of this Museum are also the work of Kipling. He was born in 1837 and died in 1911.
The V&A Museum, in collaboration with the Bard Graduate Center in New York, have presented, for the first time, a splendid Exhibition which rescues this talented, ‘ex-employee’ Kipling, from obscurity.
It is curated by Julius Bryant, Keeper of Word and Image at the Museum and Dr. Susan Weber, Director of the Bard Graduate Center, and it is supported by the Friends of the V&A.
Indian designs were much admired by the British and Kipling was an active and keen campaigner for the preservation of Indian Arts and Crafts which were under threat from industrialisation. He was also an artist, teacher, designer, journalist, conservationist and a colonial servant in the days of the British Raj. The V&A owes much to him as he was instrumental in its foundation collection and selected many objects in India for it. He also designed furniture for Royal residences. He should not have been overshadowed by his famous, literary son, Rudyard, or by William Morris, another famous 19th century designer.
Kipling was apprenticed in the potteries and then became an architectural sculptor and designer. He visited the Great Exhibition in 1851 which he found inspirational. The V&A purchased many pieces which he had admired. In the early 1860’s Kipling was employed at the V&A, which was then called the South Kensington Museum, and he produced architectural decoration for the building under Godfrey Sykes’ direction.
Kipling went to India in 1865, at a time when the British were seeking to assert the values of Empire. He was active in exporting Indian crafts, which were copied and made in England and then marketed back in India. He spent ten years in Bombay (now known as Mumbai) where he taught in the Sir J.J. School of Art. He and his students contributed much to the Gothic revival of Bombay’s architecture.
Kipling then travelled to Lahore, the capital of the Punjab, where he was Principal at the new Mayo School of Art (now Pakistan’s National College of Art). He gave his life to Indian Art and Design and recorded craft traditions which were declining. He collected much architectural material for the Lahore Museum and the V&A’s collection. In 1893, Kipling returned to England and worked together with his son.
The Exhibition is sensibly divided into three sections.
The first section gives a good impression of a thriving city and exhibits the dramatic painting of the opulent Indian Court Pavilion designed by the East India Company for the Great Exhibition. The Gothic revival was much in evidence in Bombay and Kipling contributed to its architectural decorations. Several of his drawings are on display of craftsmen in their workshops. The bracelet on display of enamelled gold set with diamonds is finely crafted, as is the purple silk prayer mat. The sword and helmet are also impressive for their craftsmanship. A notable exhibit is the fine painting of the opulent, rich pageantry of the Delhi Durbar held to celebrate Queen Victoria becoming Empress of India.
The next section deals with Lahore where Kipling made a collection of architectural sculpture; an example on display is an 18th century bay window made of deodar wood. He encouraged his students to document local buildings and their studies of monuments and mosques are exhibited. There is excellent soundscape filming of Lahore by the students of the National College of Arts. Do not miss the important bust of Buddha on show for the first time in sixty years.
The final section shows Kipling’s design work of furniture for the Duke of Connaught’s residence at Bagshot Park and the Durbar Hall at Osborne in the Isle of Wight, Queen Victoria’s Summer Palace. These are displayed through films.
This impressive Exhibition, with its paintings of memorable buildings and events, countless beautifully crafted treasures and soundscape presentations shows us a world of vibrant colours, the great Heritage of Indian Art and the sun, which has now set on a great, past Empire.
Admission is free.
Victoria and Albert Museum.
London. SW7. 2RL
14th January. 2017 – 2nd April. 2017