Exhibition at Tate Art Gallery: Art and Empire

Risaldar Jagat Singh and Risaldar Man Singh by Philip de Laszlo 1916

Risaldar Jagat Singh and Risaldar Man Singh painted by Philip de Laszlo in 1916

We went up to London earlier today, to see this exhibition at the Tate. It was a very big exhibition, drawn from collections from everywhere, which took us about two hours to get round.

There was early stuff, mostly to do with exploration and discovery. The maps reminded me of those in my classroom at primary school, which of course today would be very non-PC

Quite a lot of paintings, as one might expect, were to do with Imperial Heroics or what Victorians considered to be heroics. Not always ending with a British victory, like the battle of Isandlwana (spelling probably wrong) in Zululand, where 1400 infantrymen were slaughtered in a very short space of time. There was an amazing painting of that last stand by an artist named Fripp, who was attached to the newspaper The Graphic. He actually visited the site afterwards to get the atmosphere before embarking on this massive reconstruction. Other memorable pictures were the Death of Wolfe and the Death of General Gordon, all good heroic stuff. The British did quite a lot of bad things around the world, but hopefully left something behind that was worthwhile as well.

If I were to be asked to name the one painting that impressed me the most, I think I would have to choose the double portrait that I have shown. This is an amazingly expressive picture by Philip de Laszlo of two Indian Army officers, named above, painted in a single sitting. What is it about working at speed, that adds so much to a painting?  They were presented to George V at Buckingham Palace, before embarking for France and the Battle of the Somme, where who knows what became of them after that dreadful slaughter. We are told that one in six British soldiers came from the Indian Subcontinent! The contribution from Commonwealth countries was staggering.

Moslem Burial Ground

Moslem Military Burial Ground, Horsell Common

This links into a local monument of which we are justifiably proud, the burial ground pictured above, built by the War Office in 1917, for Moslem soldiers from the Indian Army who died in British hospitals from wounds received in France.

Various hospitals along the south coast housed Indian wounded from the Front. Some tragically did not survive. Sikhs and Hindus were cremated but Moslems were interred, and they were brought here for burial because of the proximity of the mosque at Woking, which is the earliest purpose built mosque in the country.

There were 28 graves in the cemetery which were moved in the 1960’s to the main War Graves Cemetery at nearby Brookwood. Sadly vandalism had been a problem. After a period of neglect, this burial ground was restored in 2014 as part of the centenary remembrance. A Garden of Remembrance has been laid out within the walls, and the names of the 28 soldiers who died are commemorated on a tablet.

Nothing jolly or frivolous to report from this exhibition, I am afraid, all rather heavy, moving stuff. On a lighter note, I am moving along with the Blue Mosque painting. The drawing has been transferred to watercolour paper and various bits masked out where appropriate.

One thought on “Exhibition at Tate Art Gallery: Art and Empire

  1. The painting of the Risaldars was really moving. The artist did a justice on them. Maybe without him painting them in just one sitting these soldiers of the past would have been forgotten. It’s fascinating to see how people live through tiny works. After all who will live forever?


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