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

Country Life Every Week - - Exhibition -

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

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