Adapting the Eye: An Archive of the British in India, 1770–1830

Organized to complement the Center’s major exhibition on Johan Zoffany, who spent six productive years in India, Adapting the Eye explored the complex and multifaceted networks of British and Indian professional and amateur artists, patrons, and scholars in British India in the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and their drive to create and organize knowledge for both aesthetic and political purposes. Selected from the Center’s rich holdings, the exhibition included a diverse range of objects from both high art and popular culture, including albums, scrapbooks, prints, paintings, miniatures, and sculpture, demonstrating how collecting practices and artistic patronage in India during that period constituted a complex intersection of culture and power.

The starting point and central focus of the exhibition was a remarkable and little-known archive in the Center’s collection assembled by Charles Warre Malet and the British artist James Wales. Warre Malet was the East India Company’s Resident in Pune between 1785 and 1798. He and Wales commissioned over a hundred works on paper by British and Indian artists, which are included in the archive together with extensive manuscript material and vivid sketches of landscape, architectural sites, scenes from everyday life, and diplomatic ceremonial events. An extensive selection of drawings from the archive, complemented by other works from the collections, provided a unique window into central India at a critical historical moment. A pivotal figure in this rich cultural interchange was the highly accomplished Indian draftsman and sculptor Gangaram Tambat, who drew on both indigenous and European artistic conventions; his remarkable hybrid drawings were juxtaposed with works by British artists, including William Hodges, William and Thomas Daniell, Robert Mabon, and James Wales.

Exhibition brochure

An illustrated booklet, including descriptive text and a list of objects on display, accompanied the exhibition.

View works from the collection included in this exhibition here.


The curator for the exhibition was Holly Shaffer, Graduate Research Assistant at the Center and PhD candidate in History of Art at Yale, under the supervision of Gillian Forrester, the Center’s Curator of Prints and Drawings.

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Adapting the Eye: An Archive of the British in India, 1770–1830 installation, Yale Center for British Art, photo by Richard Caspole