Architecture: Gothic Revival architecture flourished in 19th-century Bombay. Many of its great proponents were connected to the Sir J.J. School of Art, including John Lockwood Kipling, who introduced naturalistic architectural sculpture to India.
Many of these buildings were the work of members of the Royal Engineers resident in India, but some were designed by architects established in Britain. The University, with its magnificent tower, was erected from drawings sent out by George Gilbert Scott (1811-78). And Scott's Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras, together with his unexecuted design for the New Parliament House in Berlin, evidently inspired F.W. Stevens (1847-1900) when he designed the most magnificent of all Bombay's gothic extravaganzas: the Victoria Terminus railway station (now the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus). All these buildings have richly carved capitals and fine architectural sculpture, which was carried out by students at the Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy School of Art in the city. This was largely due to the artist John Lockwood Kipling (1837-1911), who had arrived in India in 1865 to take up his post as Professor of Architectural Sculpture at the newly founded school. Colonel H. St Clair Wilkins, architect of the city's (gothic) Secretariat building, would later declare him 'the pioneer of your art in this country; for ... when I first met you, artistic sculpture of natural objects was unknown in India'.
Government art schools were established in the Presidency cities of Bombay, Madras and Calcutta in the 1850s, following the example of the Central School of Industrial Art at South Kensington, and partly in response to the pre-eminence of the traditional Indian designs shown at the Great Exhibition of 1851. They were intended to encourage the export of Indian goods (although Kipling was unhappy about their westernising tendencies). The Bombay school had been endowed by a great Parsi benefactor in 1857, but the present site was not found until 1865, when designs were invited from four architects. The most impressive response came from William Burges (1827-81), the future architect of Cardiff Castle, who, like Scott, had never set foot in India, and who attempted to adapt his favourite heavy French early gothic to the climate and conditions of Bombay. It was a style, he argued, which offered 'those broad masses and strong shadows we all admire so much in Eastern architecture' and which 'associates with the Eastern pointed architecture more than any other style' while retaining 'a distinct and well defined European character'.
The following year Burges's pupil William Emerson (1843-1924) went out to India with over 100 drawings for the school. It was a clever design, with broad eaves, peripheral double corridors and traditional Indian pierced stone screens (jalis) to keep out the sun while introducing air. But it was also wildly ambitious, having a gratuitous tall staircase tower and an amazing projecting smithy modelled on the Benedictine kitchen at Marmoutier (as illustrated by Viollet-le-Duc), with a forest of chimneys rising from the dome (Fig. 1). Much admired in England, the scheme was abandoned amid squabbles over costs and the architect's fee. Emerson, who stayed on, designed the nearby Crawford Market building--gothic, of course, with relief sculptures by Kipling. Much later he would be responsible for Lord Curzon's great classical monument to the British Raj, the Victoria Memorial in Calcutta.
Not until 1874 did work begin on a permanent building for the Sir J.J. School of Art (Fig. 3), and it was finished in 1878 - three years after Lockwood Kipling had departed for Lahore. A plaque in the entrance hall proudly records the final cost, noting that it was below the estimate (the financial problems with Burges's scheme had clearly not been forgotten). The architect was the obscure George Twigge Molecey (1839-94), resident in Bombay, who had been partly responsible for adapting--and reducing the cost of- Scott's design for the University. With the School of Art, he retained certain features from Burges's design, as well as his tough French gothic style, but the resulting building is much more modest in scale--of two storeys rather than four--and artfully asymmetrical. It is an accomplished and practical piece of work which must be one of the first purpose-built art schools anywhere--three decades earlier than, say, Charles Rennie Mackintosh's much-vaunted building in Glasgow. And to visit it is a rare pleasure, for students still practise pursuits long considered anachronistic and irrelevant in many British schools, drawing from life or modelling in clay within Molecey's austere, well-lit interiors (Fig. 4).
There are now other buildings on the Sir J.J. School of Art campus. A College of Architecture was established in 1900 under John Begg. Its home is an Edwardian baroque building designed by Begg's assistant, George Wittet (1878-1926), the architect responsible for the Gateway of India, the triumphal arch in an exotic pointed-arch Gujarati style which stands on the Apollo Bunder (now the Wellington Pier) next to the (gothic) Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.
But most intriguing is the green-painted, timber house which, now forlorn and dilapidated, stands in the School of Art's grounds (Fig. 2). On its verandah, a plaque announces that, in 1865, it was the birthplace of John Lockwood Kipling's son, Rudyard. This is surely not the case, since the building must date from several decades later. It has an artful, picturesque design with quirky details; there are hints of the Aesthetic Movement about it, and elements like the broad eaves may derive from the many books of villa designs published in Britain in the 1860s and 1870s. Known as the Dean's Bungalow, it is no longer used and, unless help from the authorities is forthcoming, it may not be standing for much longer, despite the fact that it is listed as a Grade II heritage structure by the Government of Maharashtra.
An admirable project by the JSW Foundation to restore the house as a Kipling Museum foundered in 2010 because of the writer's reputation in India as a British imperialist. As his connection with the building is somewhat dubious, perhaps it could be a Lockwood Kipling Museum, dedicated to that admirable artist and friend of India, and to the work of students of the Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy School of Art, who did so much to embellish Mumbai.
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|Title Annotation:||ARCHITECTURE: SIR J.J. SCHOOL OF ART|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2013|
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