Bombay Pottery Vase

Bombay, India

Late 19th Century

Vibrant colours and spectacular form with beautiful motifs – this month’s Object in Focus is an example of work produced in the Bombay School of Art in the late 1800s. We explore the multitude of influences that impacted the visual design of this pottery and how it developed its global reputation.

This vase is an example of Bombay Pottery dating from the late 19th century. It is a turquoise, glazed earthenware vase, which features foliate designs painted with manganese underglaze that is often used in pottery to produce black, brown or purple designs. The stand is a separate piece and features four stylised lions as legs, indicating the experimental nature of the pottery produced at the Bombay School of Art. The base of the vase has Devanagari and Arabic initials.

The Great Exhibition of 1851 was the first of many international exhibitions and fairs held in Britain and Europe during the 19th century, which showcased industry, art and culture. India was featured widely in these incredibly popular exhibitions creating a demand for Indian arts, crafts and paintings in the European markets.

In 1851, a wealthy Indian shipping merchant, Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, visited the Great Exhibition at Hyde Park in London and returned to India with the dream of setting up an art school. He made a generous donation resulting in the Bombay School of Art being founded in 1857. In 1865, John Lockwood Kipling (father of the author Rudyard Kipling) was appointed and initiated development of local crafts, and later John Griffiths, Principal of the School, led a project making copies of the murals and frescoes from the Ajanta and Ellora caves.

In 1872, George Wilkins Terry, who was Superintendent of the school, started workshops to encourage experiments in pottery that combined European neoclassical forms with Indian motifs. The Ajanta frescoes formed the main influence for the motifs on the pots and students at the school were encouraged to reproduce them. Other patterns and motifs included flora and fauna from the region and scenes from mythological epics like the Ramayana. Between 1870 and 1890, the students produced these designs mainly on vases, bowls, and plates that became a great commercial success. Originally known as ‘Terryware’ they eventually became known as Wonderland Art Pottery or Bombay Pottery. The school is now called Sir J.J. School of Art and continues to be one of the most important schools for art and design education in India.

A photolithograph of a very similar vase was published in the Journal of Indian Art and Industry, Volume II in 1888.

The Journal of Indian Art and Industry was one of the most ambitious projects undertaken to document the arts and crafts of India. Between 1884 and 1917, a total of seventeen volumes were produced that included essays from many experts documenting the arts and crafts during the period. The journals also included photolithographs, chromolithographs, and black and white drawings of pottery, architectural details, jewellery, tapestries and textiles. It was intended to be a record of the ‘industrial arts’ rather than ‘fine art’ of the time.

The journal was published in London by W.H. Griggs, who was then Principal at the Bombay School of Art. The photolithograph of the vase is signed Abdul Rahaman, perhaps a student at the Bombay School of Art who produced this under the instructions of W.H. Griggs.

A selection of Bombay and Multan Pottery is now on display at The South Asia Collection in Norwich – do come and visit to see some more of the wonderful designs.