Tanjore paintings

We have re-opened!  
To celebrate we would like to take a closer look a few of our favourite paintings, newly on display. They are from a set of vibrant ‘Company School’ watercolours by an unknown artist from Tanjore, made around 1790.

Tanjore paintings

Thanjavur, once called Tanjore was, and still is, a vibrant centre of the arts. In the 18th century its dynastic rulers, the Maratha, presided over a creative boom in the city.  However courtly patronage began to falter, and artists began to create work for a new market – the British. They painted scenes of everyday Indian life designed to appeal to their new customers, who often bought them in souvenir sets.

A Mullah, or Moslem expounder of the Koran

A Tumbling Girl,
A Pandarum  (Hindu mendicant)
Tanjore Prize Fighters


These four paintings are from a set of ten. They have been painted in watercolour and heightened with gold paint and gouache, and then laid down on card, using various coloured borders. The title is inscribed in English for the benefit of the British customers.

Company School

The art-history term ‘Company School’ (referring to the East India Company) is applied to Indian art made specifically for the European market, and it covers a broad range of regional and period styles.  These paintings are from a very early period, the artist has drawn on traditional court painting, using flat bright backgrounds and giving special attention to fabrics and embellishments. 

Company School styles quickly evolved to appeal to the taste of the British clientele, absorbing western art techniques with realistic landscape backgrounds. Regular readers of this newsletter may remember a Company school painting that was our Object of the Month for October, created just a generation later than our Tanjore paintings.

Everyday people

By turning their focus to everyday life, Company School artists have also left us a historical record of the lives of ordinary Indian people, over two centuries ago. They describe in detail dress, occupations, tools and customs. Tanjore paintings are quite distinctive: the figures have lively poses and expressive faces – it is thought some may be portraits.