John Lockwood Kipling in India

Rudyard Kipling’s bookplate ‘Ex Libris,’ by Lockwood Kipling, 1909© National Trust Images / John Hammond

John Lockwood Kipling was passionately immersed in Indian culture. One of his many talents was as a writer, like his far more famous son, Rudyard. Describing Lahore, Kipling senior’s enchantment with the city in which he spent 20 years resonates in his evocative portrait of the old quarter, its slender streets embellished by intricately carved doorways and windows, with their elaborate balconies.

In 1883 he writes: ‘Lahore can even now show an architectural coup d’oeil worthy of an imperial city. Within the city walls the streets are narrow and winding, but some of them, from the overhanging balconies of wood curiously carved and coloured, the striped awnings over the shop-fronts, and the gay costumes of the population, are highly picturesque, (with) streamers of bright coloured cloths hung at intervals across from balcony to balcony’.

A True Polymath of the Arts & Crafts Movement in India

A true polymath of the Arts & Crafts movement, Kipling (1837-1911) pioneered the appreciation and revival of India’s hereditary arts, crafts and design, in many cases ensuring their creative and technical development. As one of the principals of Victorian India’s new art schools, first in Bombay, and then in Lahore, he broadened the vision of the Raj beyond transplanting the aesthetics of European fine art, on which other art school principals were mainly concentrating, into an emphasis on Indian culture, indigenous artistic skills, including the preservation of local crafts.

Kipling was truly a ‘Renaissance’ man, in the sense that he led a full life, with so many professional outlets for his unquestionable artistic leanings. He was an art school teacher, museum director, and curator of international exhibitions, author, writer and editor, interior designer and architect. On his wedding certificate, his profession was designated as ‘artist’, and ‘architectural sculptor’ on his son’s baptismal certificate.

Lockwood Kipling; Arts in the Punjab and London

A particularly sumptuous yet politically thought provoking exhibition recently opened at the V&A in collaboration with the Bard Graduate Centre, New York, entitled Lockwood Kipling: Arts & Crafts in the Punjab and London. The show is rich in the quality and extent of its exhibits, as might be expected. However, such a presentation does arouse postcolonial questions.

Among them is the fact that many of the items on display were selected by Lockwood in India and sent to the V&A, then called the South Kensington Museum, although he professed to disapprove of the export of Indian heritage. These ‘looted treasures’ played a significant role in shaping the V&A’s foundation collection. To this day, the Nehru Gallery, alongside other Asian collections, are close to the main entrance to the Museum.

India and the Great Exhibition in 1881

The exhibition includes superb paintings of the Indian section of the Great Exhibition of 1881 at Crystal Palace, which was one of the main factors inspiring the young Kipling’s fascination with India. Outstanding examples of Indian craftsmanship are also on display, such as a gold Mughal bracelet inset with diamonds, backed by enamel, and an opulent purple woven silk prayer carpet.

Kipling’s Sketches of India

John Lockwood Kipling’s own sketches of Indian craftspeople are there too. As an early champion of architectural conservation, he encouraged his art school students to document local buildings, recording details of craftsmanship, examples of which are in the show. These include architectural features such as the carved doors, windows and screens he so eloquently described, sent to the V&A, along with plaster casts. They also include a late 18th-century bay window from a merchant’s house, and a particularly valuable Gandharan torso of Buddha (1st/2nd century).

Contemporary students and staff of what is now called the Lahore National College of Arts were recently commissioned to produce a film about their city – a reverse take on the ‘colonial gaze’. The exhibition concludes with architectural details and furniture which Kipling and a former student, Bhai Ram Singh, who became an architect, created for royal residences such as the Durbar Hall at Osborne, Queen Victoria’s Isle of Wight home, and the Indian billiard room at Bagshot Park in Surrey, for the Duke of Connaught.

Kipling’s Book Illustrations

The exhibition also includes a selection of John Lockwood Kipling’s book illustrations, including some for his son Rudyard. In a sense, the two are linked conceptually by their imperialist views. Despite Lockwood senior’s deep identification with Indian culture, his love of the Punjab, and his role as a social campaigner encouraging traditional craftspeople, many of his views reflected the colonialism of his day, even its racism, though they were not as jingoistic and bigoted as his son’s.

Although he had a natural affinity with Indian artisans, he was unreceptive to the continent’s rising middle class. In many of his articles, he lampooned ‘Indian grievance mongers and intrigues’. And although he worked in collaboration with Indian staff and taught students from a range of backgrounds, including ‘lower caste’, in 1870 he writes in satirical mode: ‘Considering the original texture of the native mind, it is wonderful how nearly well they work’.

Son of a Wesleyan Minister

The son of a Wesleyan minister, Lockwood Kipling was born in Yorkshire in 1837. While still a schoolboy he visited the Great Exhibition at which the East India Company presented the largest and most spectacular displays (over 30,000 square feet), of ‘exotic treasures’. These included two giant diamonds, one of which was the Koh-i-Noor, the ’Mountain of Light’. Queen Victoria professed herself as ‘quite dazzled’ by the Indian sector.

Indian culture continued to impact on the young Kipling when the East India Company reopened its own exhibition in 1858, especially as he was working only a small distance away, on the sculptural decoration of St Michael’s Church, Cornhill, in the City of London.

But we leap ahead. Kipling’s studies began with his enrolling part time at a local art school. Then, after studying at the Potteries School of Art at Stoke-on-Trent, which naturally specialised in ceramics, he won a prize in a competition to design the façade and decoration of the new Wedgwood Memorial Institute, in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent.

Moved to London and On to Bombay

Aged 22, this ambitious young man moved to London, working in the studio of architectural sculptor John Birnie Philip. Then in 1861, he joined the Department of Science and Art in the South Kensington Museum, creating most of the external terracotta decoration.

Even so, with such professional prospects in London, Kipling signed a contract to teach terracotta, modelling and architectural sculpture at the Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy School of Art and Industry in Bombay. And so, with his newly pregnant wife, he set sail for what was then a boom-town. Disembarking in 1865, Kipling was entranced by Bombay, describing it as a ‘blazing beauty of a city’.

This land of urban opportunity was highly appropriate for Kipling’s talents, with a dynamic civic construction programme calling for a richesse of architectural sculpture in the Victorian Gothic Revival style, known in India as the Indo-Saracenic Revival. Together with his students, Kipling encrusted and carved reliefs and sculptures to help to create what has been applauded as the world’s finest collection of buildings in this style.

 Became Principal of the Sir JJ School of Art & Industry

Three years later he became the principal of the Sir JJ School of Art & Industry, and his assistant masters were local men, like Bhai Ram Singh, not other expatriates. Kipling’s was a pioneering vision of art education, veering away from the narrow ‘South Kensington’ curriculum, and based on the traditional crafts and methods of training to create them that he soon discovered.

To encourage the continuation and development of village crafts, students of the artisan caste did not have to pay fees. Nevertheless, like the British principals of other Indian art schools, he introduced what was considered to be a core skill – the Western technique of drawing, in order to develop indigenous skills of visual analysis, or ‘to see’ as it was somewhat patronisingly described, rather than relying on traditional patterns and designs. Kipling’s methodology was broad-based.

On the one hand, he encouraged his students in Bombay to copy the murals in the rock-cut temples of Ajanta and Ellora, and draw objects in the museum and from nature. On another tack, his policy was to encourage boys from artisan castes to retain and develop their families’ particular craft specialisms, and then to return to their villages. Yet his overall aim was not simply to revive dying crafts and designs, but also to develop them for new markets in order to make them sustainable.

Enthusiasm For Indian Artisanship

Kipling’s enthusiasm for Indian artisanship was noted by the Raj, and he was commissioned to travel to create a series of detailed documentary drawings of village craftspeople and their tools for exhibition and publication. In 1880, some went on display in the new Indian section of the South Kensington Museum, and in 1881 and 1882 twenty were published in the Portfolio of Indian Art.

Launched Journal of Indian Art

Later, in 1884, Kipling launched the Journal of Indian Art, publishing eleven articles on Indian crafts, many of which were illustrated with his drawings. As Julius Bryant writes about Kipling’s immersion in Indian crafts in the hefty catalogue for the current exhibition: ‘Through these images and articles (in the Journal of Indian Art) he did more than reassure British readers of the economic potential of India’s crafts, and advertise them to wider markets.

He championed the traditional architecture, arts and crafts that he found at risk, particularly from British exports to India and from local imitations made for India’s new urban middle-class markets. Through travelling and publishing, Kipling’s own horizons and ambitions broadened far beyond the supply of architectural sculpture for Bombay’s new Gothic Revival skylines’.

John Lockwood Kipling and Journalism

As Bryant infers, the colonial motivation was not altruistic; it was part of a strategy to record crafts and trades. Kipling’s journalism contributed to one of the methods by which the British Empire ruled by the pen, controlling a subject nation through classification, ensuring the political management of ‘reality.’

Yet he was unusual in referring to Indian mythology, including the Hindu pantheon, narrative traditions, legend and folklore. Again, unlike his peers, his enthusiasm for Indian culture, and his pleasure in its detail are evident. For instance, he writes about: ‘brightly-coloured, tightly kilted, many-bangled fisherwomen… as they waded from the boats with the laden baskets on their heads’.

Toured Villages in Punjab and North-West Provinces

Among the areas Kipling toured were villages in the Punjab and the North-West Provinces. He was particularly drawn to the Punjab, and especially to Lahore, where he evokes its atmospheric charm: ‘where the dyer hangs out his cloths fresh from the dye vat in brilliantly tinted streamers, and the pigeons flutter and perch along the dusty mouldings, while the green parrots shoot like emeralds from the clear blue of the cold-weather sky into dark shadows under the fretted eaves’. The Punjab was also celebrated for its wealth of village crafts, the artisan castes forming more than a fifth of the population.

Arrived at Lahore National Art College

In 1873, Kipling applied for the post of principal of a new school of art in Lahore, the latest in the Government’s network of schools, after those in Calcutta, Madras and Bombay. By 1875 he had moved to Lahore, accepting a dual appointment as the first principal of the Mayo School of Industrial Art, later, in 1958, to be renamed as the Lahore National College of Art, and acknowledged today as Pakistan’s premier art school. He was also to be the curator of the Central Museum in Lahore, now known as the Lahore City Heritage Museum.

Kipling had a vision of a partnership between the museum and school as a key to the future of Indian arts and cultural heritage. His belief was that students, craftspeople and potential purchasers of their work, should all have access to actual examples of India’s heritage and exposure to contemporary art, arranging changing exhibitions.

John Lockwood Kipling’s Life as a Museum Administrator

As museum administrator, he enriched its collection of contemporary and traditional crafts, and insisted on informative captions and improved cataloguing. He also gave it a more inclusive outreach, offering school visits and interacting with the city, giving the museum a wider role in the community as a campaigner for the conservation of Lahore’s architectural heritage. This resulted in the salvage of many fine examples, and by 1886 Kipling had transformed the museum.

Nowadays, one of the claims to fame of the Lahore museum, is its Gandharan holdings, though this author did not see many important examples of same, when visiting a decade or so ago. Where have they gone to – these exquisite sculptural examples of the symbiosis of Greek and Buddhist culture? Suffice it to say, in 1879, the British Museum acquired prime examples, and through Kipling’s exports, Gandharan sculpture became the South Kensington Museum’s main attraction, supplanting the display of Punjabi crafts.

Writing in the Journal of Indian Art

As founder and editor of the Journal of Indian Art, Kipling wrote in 1878: ‘The world, by the way, is slow to recognise how much artists have to do in the framing of modern society’. Nevertheless, he felt it was his role to present a reassuring image of the ‘true’ India, as a cultured land of past empires, palaces and temples and of present stability, especially after the India Revolt of 1857-1858, which had shocked Britain. In his journalism, he did manage to slip in comments on social concerns such as the crushing poverty, widespread illiteracy, and even the rise of nationalism.

Mayo School of Industrial Art in Lahore

At Lahore’s Mayo School of Industrial Art, the syllabus John Lockwood Kipling designed included drawing. Another insistence shared by other art school principals was geometry and the study of the English language. His own more enlightened five-year syllabus not only covered painting and modelling, but also more practical subjects such as carpentry, carving and joining, blacksmithing, architectural drawing and building construction. It is clear that he designed the courses with hereditary artisans in mind, but he also wanted to expand their range and engage them with changing times.

Kipling’s attitude and practice both at the school and the museum were clearly ahead of their time, but resulted in frequent clashes with the colonial administration. Repeatedly he was criticised for his rejection of Western-art styles in Indian art education, and ran into serious conflict over his attempts to mitigate the adverse effects of cheap British imports such as textiles, increasingly impoverishing India’s artisans.

In Retirement

After 18 years in Lahore, John Lockwood Kipling retired in 1893, suffering from ill health. By the time he left India, accolades had accumulated for his success as curator of the Lahore City Heritage Museum. Not only had visitor numbers risen substantially, but the collections had grown and diversified, including holdings from the Indus Valley, Jain, Hindu and Buddhist treasures, as well as art and crafts, photographs and models of artisans showing stages of design, manufacture and materials.

As to John Lockwood Kipling’s legacy for the Lahore National College of Arts, he said: ‘the school has undoubtedly been the means of creating and fostering an appreciation of Indian art, which is spreading and will continue to spread’. I leave you, dear reader, to contrast the legacies of Kipling, father and son.


Until 2 April, Lockwood Kipling: Arts and Crafts in the Punjab and London at the V&A , London, John Lockwood Kipling: Arts & Crafts in the Punjab & London is published by BGC Yale, ISBN 9780300221596, £40