Visual History of the World




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The Modern Era

1789 - 1914

In Europe, the revolutionary transformation of the ruling systems and state structures began with a bang: In 1789 the French Revolution broke out in Paris, and its motto "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite"—Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood—took on an irrepressible force. A fundamental reorganization of society followed the French Revolution. The ideas behind the revolution were manifest in Napoleon's Code Civil, which he imposed on many European nations. The 19th century also experienced a transformation of society from another source: The Industrial Revolution established within society a poorer working class that stood in opposition to the merchant and trading middle class. The nascent United States was shaken by an embittered civil war. The economic growth that set in following that war was accompanied by the development of imperialist endeavors and its rise to the status of a Great Power.



Liberty Leading the People,
allegory of the 1830 July revolution that deposed the French monarchy,
with Marianne as the personification of liberty,
contemporary painting by Eugene Delacroix.


see also: THE ART OF ASIA

EXPLORATION: Indian Court Painting



CA. 1800-1914


The imperial rule of extensive areas of India by the British required a large administration and the co-option of local elites. Ironically the forced unification of the vast fragmented subcontinent served to raise awareness of common history, culture, and religion. This led in the course of the 19th century to concrete demands, first for participation in government, and eventually for self-determination. The Indian National Congress was the organ of the Liberal Nationalists, which began the struggle for independence in the 20th century.


Expansion of British-ruled Territories in India and the outbreak of the Sepoy Rebellion

The East India Company pushed further into the country. The introduction of a Western-style administration and education system led to the emergence of an Indian intellectual class that soon began to demand democratic rights.


India was a patchwork of 500 separately governed territories which the British appropriated piece by piece during the wars against the Maratha Confederation in 1775-1782,1803-1805, and 1817-1818.

The conquered territories were either administered directly by the British or left under the rule of 1, 4, 5 Indian vassal princes.

1 The goddess Durga fights the demon

see also: Indian Court Painting

4 Emblem of the Indian Rajas

5 Indian astrolabe

Only the Sikhs and the Gurkhas were truly independent of British rule.

The development of the administration system and infrastructure was given priority—the construction of an enormous 3 railroad network, which opened in 1853, to open up the interior of the country, better roads, and a reliable postal system.

A unified, national legal system and a single currency were also introduced.

At the beginning of the 19th century the need for qualified Indian workers led to the introduction of Western educational institutions where Indians qualified as officials, lawyers, and teachers. In 1857 universities opened in Madras, Bombay, and Calcutta, and a wealthy few came to Britain to study. A small class of Indians with Western education thus emerged, and some came to express anger over the conquests and annexations of the British. Political organizations were soon composing petitions that demanded democratic rights and access to things.

These critical voices were all but ignored by the British at first, but this changed with the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857 in 2 Delhi which, though limited to northern and central India, affected the whole of the country.

The mutiny was provoked by the use of cartridge grease which, containing both pork and beef, defiled both Hindus and Muslims.

3 Platform of an Indian railway station on the
network that opened in 1853

2 The city of Delhi ca. 1850



The Uprising of the Sepoys

The Sepoys were Indian soldiers primarily from the Punjab region, which had been annexed in 1849. In 1857 the Sepoy Rebellion (or Indian Mutiny) erupted.

Resentment of the gulf between the British officer class and the common soldiers was one of the main causes, as was the fear of Christian missionary efforts sparked by insensitivities to religious practices. The Sepoys liberated imprisoned soldiers in Meerut, near Delhi, killing British citizens in the process.

This mutiny ignited the rebellion of the recently disempowered upper class in Oudh, and princes, lords of manors, and peas-ants fought side by side. Delhi was seized and the last Mogul, Bahadur Shah II, was proclaimed emperor of India. Delhi and the encircled British seat in Lucknow were retaken by the British in 1857.

Execution of Indian soldiers following the mutiny's suppression




The Awakening of the Indian Nation

The Indian educated class organized itself into political movements and demanded a voice in the running of British India.


Following the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857, the last Mogul, Bahadur Shah II, was banished, and the British crown took direct control of India.

The East India Company was dissolved in 1858 and 6 Queen Victoria assumed the title of "Empress of India" in 1876: from this time until Indian independence, the British monarch was simultaneously the 9 Emperor of India.

6 Victoria, Queen of Great Britain and
Ireland, Empress of India

9 George V, king of Great Britain and Ireland, is crowned Emperor of India
during a lavish ceremony held in Delhi, in 1911

The governor-general, formerly the head of the East India Company, was then appointed viceroy. In addition to India, his domain included the presentday states of Sri Lanka, Pakistan. Bangladesh, and Myanmar.

In the second half of the century, the British continued the development of the administration and infrastructure. Revenues gained from property taxes, the opium monopoly, and a salt tax were sent to London, while the Indian people suffered under the ruthless exploitation of their country.

Millions lost their lives in 7 famines.

The new generation of Indian intellectuals increasingly absorbed ideas of democracy and nationalism; the latter began to develop strongly in the 1870s.

On the one hand there was the desire for recognition by the West; on the other there was 10 cultural and religious pride.

These contradictory desires shaped the nationalists' debates into the 20th century. The government of the liberal viceroy Lord Ripon gave the nationalists further impetus. In 1885 the Indian National Congresswas founded, which would lead first to negotiations with the British and later an independent India. In 1906, Indian Muslims formed their own party, the Muslim League, which better represented them as a minority.

When the British wanted to divide the Bengal region to form a province with a Muslim majority, there were attacks against the British, boycotts, and à 8 revolt.

The British were forced to abandon the division. Because the rebellious Bengals had become a danger for the viceroy, the seat of government was moved from Calcutta to Delhi in 1911.

7 Hindi begging the British for food,
ca. 1873

10 Sitar player, miniature from
Dhubela, Rajasthan, ca. 1800

8 Indian military units revolt against
the British occupying forces



Sir Rabindranath Tagore

In 1913, Rabindranath Tagore became the first Asian to win the Nobel Prize for literature. This increased the Indian sense of nationalism, as the Indian culture was now in some respects recognized by the West as an equal.

Tagore did what he could for the farmers in the villages of Bengal. Among other things, he established a cooperative grain silo and had roads and hospitals built. He criticized the English school system and the neglect of the mother tongue that it caused.

He founded a school after the ancient Indian model called Ashram in Shantiniketan, West Bengal, where a university still operates today.

Rabindranath Tagore




Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore

Bengali poet
Bengali Rabīndranāth Ṭhākur

born May 7, 1861, Calcutta, India
died Aug. 7, 1941, Calcutta

Bengali poet, short-story writer, song composer, playwright, essayist, and painter who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. Tagore introduced new prose and verse forms and the use of colloquial language into Bengali literature, thereby freeing it from traditional models based on classical Sanskrit. He was highly influential in introducing the best of Indian culture to the West and vice versa, and he is generally regarded as the outstanding creative artist of modern India.

The son of the religious reformer Debendranath Tagore, he early began to write verses, and after incomplete studies in England in the late 1870s, he returned to India. There he published several books of poetry in the 1880s and completed Mānasī (1890), a collection that marks the maturing of his genius. It contains some of his best-known poems, including many in verse forms new to Bengali, as well as some social and political satire that was critical of his fellow Bengalis.

In 1891 Tagore went to East Bengal (now in Bangladesh) to manage his family’s estates at Shilaidah and Shazadpur for 10 years. There he often stayed in a houseboat on the Padma River (i.e., the Ganges River), in close contact with village folk, and his sympathy for their poverty and backwardness became the keynote of much of his later writing. Most of his finest short stories, which examine “humble lives and their small miseries,” date from the 1890s and have a poignancy, laced with gentle irony, that is unique to him, though admirably captured by the director Satyajit Ray in later film adaptations. Tagore came to love the Bengali countryside, most of all the Padma River, an often-repeated image in his verse. During these years he published several poetry collections, notably Sonār Tarī (1894; The Golden Boat), and plays, notably Chitrāṅgadā (1892; Chitra). Tagore’s poems are virtually untranslatable, as are his more than 2,000 songs, which remain extremely popular among all classes of Bengali society.

In 1901 Tagore founded an experimental school in rural West Bengal at Śantiniketan (“Abode of Peace”), where he sought to blend the best in the Indian and Western traditions. He settled permanently at the school, which became Viśva-Bhārati University in 1921. Years of sadness arising from the deaths of his wife and two children between 1902 and 1907 are reflected in his later poetry, which was introduced to the West in Gitanjali, Song Offerings (1912). This book, containing Tagore’s English prose translations of religious poems from several of his Bengali verse collections, including Gītāñjali (1910), was hailed by W.B. Yeats and André Gide and won him the Nobel Prize in 1913. Tagore was awarded a knighthood in 1915, but he repudiated it in 1919 as a protest against the Amritsar Massacre.

From 1912 Tagore spent long periods out of India, lecturing and reading from his work in Europe, the Americas, and East Asia and becoming an eloquent spokesperson for the cause of Indian independence. Tagore’s novels, though less outstanding than his poems and short stories, are also worthy of attention; the best known are Gorā (1910) and Ghare-Bāire (1916; The Home and the World). In the late 1920s, at nearly 70 years of age, Tagore took up painting and produced works that won him a place among India’s foremost contemporary artists.

W. Andrew Robinson

Encyclopaedia Britannica



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