The Gwillim Project

The Gwillim Project: Women, Environment, and Networks of Knowledge and Exchange in Early Nineteenth Century Madras

Two sisters, Mary Symonds and Elizabeth Gwillim (née Symonds), lived in Madras (now Chennai) between 1802 and 1808. They were extraordinary artists, painting in watercolour, and leaving a legacy of hundreds of pictures of life in and around Madras: including street scenes, land and waterscapes, interiors of houses and portraits of individuals who may otherwise have never been painted, alongside a collection of ornithological works, and others of flowers and fish. These paintings are a hugely important resource for understanding life in Madras and its environment at the start of the nineteenth century. Until now, the sisters have been largely ignored in art historical studies of the period.

The Gwillim Project is a collaboration between The South Asia Collection Museum and the Blacker-Wood Collections, McGill University. This work is funded by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (Canada).