Kipling the arts and craftsman

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Words:
Pamela Buxton

There is far more to Lockwood Kipling than being the illustrator of his more famous son’s books, not least his championing of Indian arts and crafts

Mosaic panel, after Godfrey Sykes, c1866.
Mosaic panel, after Godfrey Sykes, c1866. Credit: Victoria and Albert Museum, London

‘He deserves to be as well respected as William Morris as a pillar of the arts & crafts movement,’ says Julius Bryant, co-curator of a new exhibition into the life and work of Lockwood Kipling at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

It’s quite a claim, and one that might surprise those who, if they know of Lockwood Kipling at all, know him only as the illustrator of his son Rudyard’s famous books.

But this exhibition makes a compelling case for Kipling senior’s contribution to the arts & crafts movement as an artist, teacher and curator – in particular his pioneering work preserving and popularising Indian crafts.

The V&A is an appropriate venue. Kipling (1837-1911) was inspired to work as a craftsman after visiting the nearby Great Exhibition and started his career at the museum (then the South Kensington Museum) as an architectural sculptor creating terracotta panels during 1861-5. He then moved to India, where he was to spend 28 years, first teaching in Bombay (now Mumbai) and then in Lahore (now in Pakistan), where he held the dual roles of principal of the new Mayo School of Art and curator of the adjoining museum as well as editing the Journal of Indian Art.

Significantly, he introduced the study of Indian arts and crafts rather than focusing on a Western curriculum. He documented and helped preserve local architecture such as the magnificent Wazir Khan Mosque in Lahore as well as contributing, with his students, decoration to many Gothic Revival civic buildings of the Raj. 

  • Bracelet shown at the Great Exhibition, made in Rajasthan, India, c1850.
    Bracelet shown at the Great Exhibition, made in Rajasthan, India, c1850. Credit: Victoria and Albert Museum, London
  • Lockwood Kipling with his son Rudyard Kipling, 1882.
    Lockwood Kipling with his son Rudyard Kipling, 1882. Credit: National Trust, Charles Thomas
  • View of Lahore with Maharaja Ranjit Sing, Woodcut, c1870.
    View of Lahore with Maharaja Ranjit Sing, Woodcut, c1870. Credit: Victoria and Albert Museum, London
  • Principal entrance to the Mosque of Wazir Khan, Mohammed Din, c1880.
    Principal entrance to the Mosque of Wazir Khan, Mohammed Din, c1880. Credit: Victoria and Albert Museum, London
  • A Wood Carver, from a collection depicting craftsmen of the North-West Provinces of British India, by John Lockwood Kipling, 1870.
    A Wood Carver, from a collection depicting craftsmen of the North-West Provinces of British India, by John Lockwood Kipling, 1870. Credit: Victoria and Albert Museum, London
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As well as undertaking freelance writing and drawing commissions, including drawings of craftspeople at work, he was busy finding and sending pieces of Indian craftwork back to the V&A for its foundation collection. Ever the entrepreneur, he also organised a series of international trade exhibitions to popularise Indian arts and crafts and encourage the production of more contemporary objects.

Although his hopes that this would become as fashionable as Chinoiserie or Japonisme were not fully realised, its considerable popularity is demonstrated by the inclusion of Indian arts and crafts in royal residences such as Bagshot Park in Surrey and Osborne, Queen Victoria’s summer home on the Isle of Wight. Both these were commissions that Kipling undertook with his former student, architect Bhai Ram Singh.

The exhibition also explores the man behind the typical image of a bushy-bearded Victorian staring out at us from photographs in the show. We learn that his idea of happiness was eating a ripe mango in the bath with a cigar. I like to think of him out and about in Bombay and Lahore with his sketchbook capturing local craftspeople on paper as they went about their work, or meticulously documenting the diverse Mughal and Sikh architecture. Returning to the UK must have been quite a culture shock after so many years in the vibrant Indian cities.  However Kipling certainly kept busy in retirement with his illustrations of Rudyard’s books, some of which featured the novel idea of creating illustrations in relief panels that were then photographed.

  • Wedding chest, c1888.
    Wedding chest, c1888. Credit: CSG CIC Glasgow Museum Collection
  • Terracotta tobacco jar and cover in the form of a bear, by Lockwood Kipling, 1896.
    Terracotta tobacco jar and cover in the form of a bear, by Lockwood Kipling, 1896. Credit: National Trust, Charles Thomas
  • Rudyard Kipling’s bookplate ‘Ex Libris,’ by Lockwood Kipling, 1909.
    Rudyard Kipling’s bookplate ‘Ex Libris,’ by Lockwood Kipling, 1909. Credit: National Trust, John Hammond
  • Durbar Hall at Osborne, designed by Bhai Ram Singh and Lockwood Kipling in 1890.
    Durbar Hall at Osborne, designed by Bhai Ram Singh and Lockwood Kipling in 1890. Credit: Bard Graduate Center, New York, Bruce M White, photographer
  • The Great Exhibition, India no 4, by Joseph Nash, c1851. The exhibition inspired a teenage Lockwood Kipling to pursue a career in arts & crafts.
    The Great Exhibition, India no 4, by Joseph Nash, c1851. The exhibition inspired a teenage Lockwood Kipling to pursue a career in arts & crafts. Credit: (c) Royal Collection Trust Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016
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This show touches on some difficult issues – namely how the popularising of Indian-style decoration led to imitations being made over here and shipped back for sale in India to the detriment of the local market. But Bryant feels that it’s time not to shy away from celebrating the positive contribution of figures such as Lockwood, saying that after all, he is revered in Lahore for his work documenting local arts and crafts.

Organised to coincide with the 70th anniversary of Indian independence, this exhibition does justice to Lockwood Kipling’s achievements and in doing so, offers a window into another world and time of rich colours, exotic sounds and sumptuous decoration. A fine antidote to wintry, grey old London.

Lockwood Kipling: Arts and Crafts in the Punjab and London, until April 2, Victoria and Albert Museum, Exhibition Road, London.