The Courtyard, Afghanistan, By Nancy Jane Burton. 1930s

This courtyard scene was painted by the Scottish watercolour artist Nancy Jane Burton, who travelled widely through Kashmir, Pakistan (which would have been northern India in the period Nancy was there, before Independence) and Afghanistan between 1932 and 1936. This painting is currently on display as part of the new exhibition, Nancy Jane Burton: Watercolours from a Journey through Pakistan and Afghanistan in the 1930s.

Close up details in The Courtyard

This set of watercolours are remarkable for the vibrancy of the palette Nancy Jane Burton employed. And, despite the medium – watercolour being the art of the quick brushstroke and temptation to portray large sweeps of outdoor or interior features with a few movements of the brush – each painting is made with an eye for detail. In Courtyard, the viewer can observe the hand mill grinder, the barred window, the wall niches, the hanging chain for fastening the wooden door, the baskets and textiles, and the construction of the verandah roof.

Murree Bazaar

Nancy Jane Burton left Scotland in 1932 for what was intended to be a six month visit to India. She was  already a skilled artist, having studied at the Glasgow School of Art and continuing her education in Europe. With a speciality in painting animals, she found herself in demand by India’s racehorse owners who wanted portraits of their horses. Burton received such a large number of commissions, across India, that what she thought would be a stay of six months became a residency of four years.

The watercolours on display at The South Asia Collection include those painted close to Burton’s home in Rawalpindi and images she made travelling through Afghanistan. A trip she would recall as, ‘an interesting and memorable experience.’

Poonch Woman

It has been difficult to find exact information about Nancy Jane Burton’s journeys in South Asia. The paintings are our primary source. We hope that this exhibition can be used as a starting point to gather new information, whether that be what these locations look like today, or more historical insight. We would welcome your response.

On returning to Scotland, Nancy Jane Burton continued to paint. During her service in the Second World War, she made a detailed self-portrait, dressed in uniform and wearing a radio headset. Later she would go on to exhibit her watercolours in galleries across Europe and the UK, as well as further afield.

By displaying Nancy Jane Burton’s paintings of Pakistan and Afghanistan, we hope to continue our broader effort to redress the gender imbalance in the art histories of South Asia. Nancy Jane Burton is part of a long line of women watercolourists. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, many of these wonderful painters remain under researched and exhibited.

Old Rewat Fort Gateway Near Pindi

Nancy Jane Burton: Watercolours from a journey through Pakistan and Afghanistan

in the 1930s is on display in the picture gallery in The South Asia Collection