Out of his son’s shadow
Clive Aslet is fascinated by a new exhibition that resurrects the reputation of Rudyard Kipling’s father, a craftsman, illustrator and champion of the Arts-and-crafts movement in India as well as England
This is an exhibition to one of the V&A’S own. John Lockwood Kipling (1837– 1911), more famous as the father of Rudyard than in his own right, is literally built into the fabric of the place. having helped Godfrey sykes model terracotta for what was then the south Kensington Museum’s main entrance, he was rewarded with a place in the procession of gentlemen who had been prominent in creating the institution. This was generous but apt.
Trained as a ceramicist in the Potteries, Lockwood lived and breathed the south Kensington ethos. he took it with him to india on a mission to revive the native arts and crafts. something of it percolated into the works of his son, with their delight in John Lockwood Kipling with his son Rudyard in 1882 the ingenuity and colour of the different peoples of india often illustrated by Rudyard’s own hand.
By a happy chance, the introduction to the superb catalogue quotes Tristram hunt on the ‘agonised public debate about the legacies and meaning of the colonial past’. Let’s hope that, as director, Mr hunt introduces more exhibitions like this one, which not only opens a window onto a neglected byway of the Raj, but is also full of joy and delight.
The latter qualities derive from Kipling’s own boyish personality. he was one of the bubbly Victorians, in the manner of William Burges, William Morris and W. E. Nesfield—long-bearded, short-legged, pipe in mouth, happy to sketch himself as a comically owlish figure in the margins of letters. however, his achievement was serious. As well as being an educationalist, he worked variously as an illustrator, architect, sculptor, exhibition organiser, curator, collector and journalist.
These many facets are presented in an exhibition that is as engaging as Kipling himself. Although not large in ground area, it is ingeniously contrived with intimate spaces for the display of small objects and two large screens with videos by local film-makers to bring us the sun-drenched spectacle of old Bombay and Lahore, the two cities in which Kipling worked. The views of Lahore are particularly valuable because of the difficulty of visiting the Punjab at the moment.
it was south Kensington that first fired Kipling’s enthusiasm for india. As a boy of 13, he had been captivated by the indian Court of the Great Exhibition of 1851, with its displays of Kashmir shawls and jewellery, marble inlay and pierced jade—there was even a stuffed elephant, although it had come not from the subcontinent, but from Wombwell’s Menagerie.
Even so, the decision to accept an appointment with an art school in Bombay, on only a three-year contract, to which he left, at the age of 28, with his newly pregnant wife, Alice, showed bravery, if not desperation. According to a catalogue essay by Barbara Bryant, the well-connected Alice raised Kipling’s game; she introduced him to a Pre-raphaelite circle that included Edward BurneJones, who was married to her sister, Georgie.
india spelt opportunity. in 1865, when the Kiplings left, the ‘Cotonopolis’ of Bombay was booming, due to the blockade of Confederate ports during the American Civil War. The initial three-year contract was renewed, enabling Kipling to create his masterpiece: a wellobserved series of relief panels on the Crawford Market depicting indian trade and agriculture, together with a fountain decorated with voluptuous river goddesses, indian birds and gargoyle spouts in the shape of alligators, monkeys, camels and other creatures.
in 1875, Lockwood and Alice moved to Lahore, where Kipling not only ran the Mayo school of industrial Art and the Lahore Central Museum, but rebuilt them. (it was outside ‘the Wonder house, as the natives call the Lahore Museum’ that Rudyard set the opening for his novel Kim). Already, he had executed a series of drawings of indian