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The entrance of an excavated Hindu cave temple at Mahabalipuram on the Coromandel Coast

The entrance of an excavated Hindu cave temple at Mahabalipuram on the Coromandel Coast
oil on canvas
48 x 71 5/8 in. (122 x 179.5 cm.)
inscribed on the reverse 'A View of the Subteraneous / Temple at Mauveleporam / T. Daniell' (upper center, on the lining canvas)
(Possibly) The artist; (†) his sale, Christie’s, London, 23 May 1840, lot 79 (£3.5 to Kitrick).
[The Property of a Gentleman]; Christie’s, London, 18 November 1983, lot 60.
Gifted to the husband of the current owner circa 1995.
T. Daniell and W. Daniell, Oriental Scenery, V, London, 1799-1800 [1808], pl. II.
T. Sutton, The Daniells: Artists and Travellers, London, 1954, pp. 80-81.
M. Shellim, The Daniells in India and the Waterfall at Papanasam, Calcutta, 1970, p. 72.
M. Shellim, Oil Paintings of India and the East by Thomas Daniell 1749-1840 and William Daniell 1769-1837, London, 1979, p. 51, no. TD34, illustrated.
London, Royal Academy, 1797, no. 22, as ‘Hindoo Antiquities at Mahavalipuram, E. Indies’.
London, Eyre and Hobhouse, Twelve Oil Paintings by Thomas Daniell, R.A. (1749-1840), 17 November-4 December 1981, no. 8.

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John Hawley
John Hawley Specialist

Lot Essay

Of the European artists on the Indian subcontinent in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Thomas Daniell and his nephew, William, played a preeminent role in recording and documenting the country for Western eyes. Their seven-year tour of India from 1786-93, and the subsequent publication of their work, brought to the public in Britain an unrivalled view of the scenery and architecture of this fabled and exotic land. Other artists, notably William Hodges, who made a tour up the Ganges in 1780-3, provided inspiration for the Daniells. Encouraged by Hodges’ work, the Daniells set off from England in 1786 to make their fortune in India: up the Ganges (1788-91); a circular tour around Mysore from Madras (1792-3) and finally on their return journey to England Bombay and its temple sites (1793), all the while sketching, drawing and painting as they travelled.

Upon their return to London in 1794, the Daniells turned this substantial body of material into finished watercolors and oil paintings, which they then exhibited. On the basis of that work alone, the Daniells would have secured a prominent place in the history of Anglo-Indian art, but they then embarked on a grand and extensive project to translate their watercolors into print. The result was Oriental Scenery, published in six parts between 1795 and 1808, comprising 144 aquatinted plates, and regarded as the unsurpassed achievement of Anglo-Indian art in the period. The monumental project constituted the first detailed record of the great Hindu monuments across India.

The present view was included as Plate II in volume five, titled Antiquities of India, first published in 1799-1800. The site depicted is the Krishna mandapa, or rock-cut cave temple or shrine, located at Mahabalipuram along the southeastern coast of India. The seventh-century Krishna mandapa is one of a number in the area built during the Pallava dynasty (275-897 C.E.). A particularly sophisticated structure, it contains large panels depicting Hindu mythology and regional culture in the period. The temple was excavated directly to the south of the Descent of the Ganges relief, a giant open-air rock relief measuring 43 by 96 feet that covers two large pink granite boulders with more than one hundred life-size figures. The relief was carved to celebrate the victory of Narasimhavarman I over Chalukya king Pulakesin II and depicts the story of the king Bhagiratha leading the descent of the sacred river Ganges to earth. Daniell is also known to have produced drawings of the relief.

Daniell exhibited four oil paintings based on his visit to Mahabalipuram in February 1793. This is the most important of the exhibited works. Shellim (loc. cit.) records three further versions which were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1798 (no. 99, ‘Sculptured Rocks at Mauvelporam on the Coromandel Coast, East Indies’), British Institution in 1807 (no. 184, ‘Sculptured Rocks, Coromandel Coast, East Indies’) and Royal Academy in 1826 (no. 195, ‘Hindoo Antiquities at Bahabalyporam, on the Coromandel Coast, East Indies’). The present location of these paintings is unknown.

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