Please note, the exhibition will also be held at the Bard Graduate Centre Gallery, New York, from 15 September 2017 - 7 January 2018. The images below are all from the press release for the London exhibition, except for the one of the book jacket. Click on them for larger pictures; click on the links for more information.

Lockwood Kipling at the V&A

Installation photographs of the exhibition. Left: Display relating to the Bombay years. Right: Display of Kipling's work as illustrator, showing the reliefs that he photographed in an innovative technique for in-depth illustration. Both © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

The current (14 January-2 April 2017) Lockwood Kipling exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and its accompanying book, John Lockwood Kipling: Arts and Crafts in the Punjab and London, are both perfectly dazzling. Together, they contextualise and do long-overdue justice to yet another of those astonishing Victorians, this time an energetic and multi-talented artist, craftsman and influential educator whose achievements have up until now been almost forgotten.

The reasons for this neglect are obvious enough. "Kipling" is a household name, and it belongs not to the father, John Lockwood, but to the son, (Joseph) Rudyard. Also, the father's main field of endeavour was in India: his counterparts in England, in the burgeoning Arts and Crafts Movement, simply stole the show. Connected with both these factors, there is the pall cast on anything connected with the whole imperial project, something more fully acknowledged in the book than in the exhibition. Yet, in her preface to the book, Deborah Swallow calls ours a "post-post-colonial perspective" (xiii): surely the time has now come for a fairer assessment, and a full recognition of the elder Kipling's rich and enriching contributions to the arts both at home and abroad.

Left: John Nash's The Great Exhibition: India No. 4. Watercolour and gouache over pencil on paper. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016, RCIN 919942. Cat. 6. Right: Lockwood Kipling is shown in this 1866 panel on what was once the original entrance façade of the Victoria and Albert Museum. It depicts the artists who had been engaged on the building project. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

The Victoria and Albert exhibition is a deceptively compact one, in a suite of galleries entered from the foyer. Panels of introductory material make the entrance a bottleneck, but soon after that, with a flourish, comes a look at the Great Exhibition — naturally, with an emphasis on the spectacular Indian Court. Visiting this as an impressionable schoolboy was what sparked Kipling's lifelong interest in the arts and crafts, leading eventually to his curatorial activities as director of his own "House of Wonder": the Central Museum in Lahore. This is followed by exhibits following the aspiring young craftsman from his early training in the Potteries through to his productive London years. During the latter, he worked with John Birnie Philip and John Thomas, fulfilled commissions for George Gilbert Scott, and turned down a position with another architect, E. R. Robson. Moreover, he worked on the fabric of the V & A itself, and is still commemorated here on one of Godfrey Sykes's decorative panels facing the inner courtyard (shown above right). The stocky, already impressively bearded Kipling is seen following Sir Henry Cole, Francis Fowke (the architect and engineer), and Sykes himself, whom he was then assisting.

From left to right: (a) Rajasthani bracelet of about 1850, shown at the Great Exhibition, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. (b) A Wood Carver, from a collection depicting craftsmen of the North-West Provinces of British India, by John Lockwood Kipling, pen-and-ink and wash on paper, 1870. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. (c) A painted wooden wedding chest, with brass fittings, c. 1888, with Kipling's name inscribed on front edge of lid. © CSG CIC Glasgow Museum Collection.

Kipling covered a vast amount of ground before, in a sense, returning to his roots here. Visitors now enter, as he did himself in 1865, a whole other world, vibrant and astonishingly diverse. Large-screen videos at strategic intervals in the exhibition pan in on the exotic contexts in present-day India and Pakistan to which he himself contributed. (Proper captions, or voice-overs, would have been helpful here.) Captivated by this ancient culture, he decorated the new buildings of Bombay with architectural sculpture to suit the ambience, and rebuilt the museum and Mayo School of Art in Lahore where he moved after ten years. From Lahore he supervised and helped create the designs for the Delhi Durbar of 1877, right from tented venue itself to the heraldic banners presented to the Indian princes. Of more lasting importance was the way he spread an appreciation of the arts and crafts of India, especially of the Punjab, to his home country and many others, exhibiting choice works not only in England but in France, Australia and America and elsewhere.

Kipling, by all accounts vigorous, outspoken and with a lively wit, was intent on promoting and encouraging traditional crafts. But not everyone warmed to him or to his approaches. He had rivals and indeed opponents. George Birdwood, who gets his own corner here, was a medical man but also the curator of the Government Art Museum in Bombay. He believed in preserving village culture. Another expert in the area, the architectural historian James Fergusson, emphasised the need for research and close study. Kipling, always forward-looking, and with a role in teaching the younger generation as well as in conservation, was more concerned with active regeneration, development and innovation. He is quoted on one of the exhibition labels as saying "Make your own experiments. It's the only way." This comes ultimately from his son's memoir, Something of Myself, in the context of encouraging his own particular genius, but it is a good philosophy for both life and art.

From left to right: (a) Bhai Ram Singh, by Rudolf Swoboda, 1882. Royal Collection Trust © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016. (b) Another oil-painting by Rudolf Swoboda, A Peep of the Train or Waiting for the Train, Madras (1892), above items for the Durbar Hall at Osborne: brass firedogs designed by Singh, and a carved walnut and leather chair, also c. 1892, credited to both Lockwood and Singh. (c) The "peacock-in-pride" overmantel for the Durbar Hall, on which they also collaborated, 1890-92. Photograph by Bruce M. White, © Bard Graduate Center, New York.

Kipling's name did spread at the time, and this led to some important English commissions — the most important one being the Queen's request for a Durbar Room at Osborne House. This, like other assignments now, he carried out with the assistance of Sikh architect Bhai Ram Singh, who would become principal of the Mayo School in 1909. Finally, the exhibition reveals that when Kipling finally returned to England, it was not just to sit in a fug of pipe-smoke in his armchair (although he did that too) but to launch a new phase of his career as book illustrator, and to continue his close collaboration with his son.

[Review of] John Lockwood Kipling: Arts and Crafts in the Punjab and London, edited by Julius Bryant and Susan Weber

Left: Cover of the book under review, showing the Durbar room that Lockwood Kipling designed for the Queen at Osborne House.

Julius Bryant and Susan Weber have contributed to, as well as edited, the book accompanying the exhibition. With ten other contributors, they have explored Kipling's various contexts, his personality, and the many related areas of his life's work, in ceramics, sculpture, architecture, design, curating, conserving, collecting, illustrating, and writing — all in such scholarly detail and depth that one chapter alone, Susan Weber's on "Kipling and the Exhibition Movement," has 474 endnotes. There is also a captivating chapter by Barbara Bryant on his spirited and supportive wife, Alice (née Macdonald). A delicate panel of embroidery, thought to have been made by her for William Morris's Red House, is on show early in the exhibition (though not at the New York venue), providing a tangible link with the world that Kipling left in 1865. The extent of Kipling's collaboration with his son is the subject of another very enjoyable chapter, Sandra Kemp's "'An Expert Fellow-Craftsman': Rudyard Kipling and the Pater." Kemp does not play down the hurt of early separation, so common in the Anglo-Indian family, nor the pressure of parental expectation. But there is as little doubt in her mind as there was in Rudyard's himself that he owed a huge debt to his father.

Left: Lockwood Kipling with his son Rudyard, 1882. Right: Terracotta tobacco jar and cover in the form of a bear, by Lockwood Kipling, 1896 (he had retired in 1893). Both © National Trust/Charles Thomas.

In an important concluding chapter, "John Lockwood Kipling's Influence," Abigail McGowan has the opportunity to raise questions that barely surface in the exhibition, except perhaps in relation to Kipling's difference of opinion with George Birdwood. How did Kipling's colonial mentality affect his work, and how might it now affect our evaluation of it? It is abundantly clear from his journalism and other writings that Kipling was a man of his time, who established a ready rapport with the Anglo-Indian community at large, and with readers at home who held similar views. McGowan discusses some useful examples of how his acceptance of certain stereotypes impinged on his work, for example, in admission criteria at the Mayo School. In general, however, she too skirts the issue: "[t]he assessment of Kipling's activities and their place within power politics is best left to others" (489). This seems a shame. It is the one area not fully explored in the book, and it is a contentious one. But, in a way, she is right. It would be so unfair to dismiss his Kipling's achievements on this basis. Although far from uncritical (he was a teacher, after all), he had great respect for the arts of the subcontinent, and for their practitioners, including colleagues like Singh. More importantly, his vision of the country as a precious cradle of traditional crafts persists, and McGowan finds that later efforts to support these crafts are imbued with many of the same values that he espoused and encouraged:

Whatever their limitations, efforts to keep struggling crafts alive today reveal the long-term legacy of Kipling's ideas and innovations. Contemporary crafts activists and entrepreneurs have changed much from Kipling's vision: replacing imperialism with nationalism, introducing a greater concern with social welfare, and embracing folk and tribal arts rather than just urban crafts.... Those who work to ensure the survival of traditional crafts and the economic viability of artisanal work, however, share admiration for India's craft heritage, deep knowledge of local practices, interest in adapting to new markets, and commitment to educating both producers and consumers alike — all principles embraced in the late nineteenth-century by John Lockwood Kipling. [508]

This summation is followed by a remarkably full and useful twelve-page chronology, a complete checklist of the exhibition and a wide-ranging bibliography. The latter is described as select, but is, in fact, very comprehensive.

This is a beautifully produced volume. Its red front cover sports a whimsical gold-embossed self-portrait of Kipling sketching, and it is richly illustrated throughout. Running to practically 600 large pages, it is much, much more than a catalogue. No one with an interest in either of the Kiplings, or their milieux, can afford to miss it.

Related Material


(Book under review) Bryant, Julius, and Susan Weber, eds. John Lockwood Kipling: Arts and Crafts in the Punjab and London. New York: Bard Graduate Centre Gallery; New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2017. xix + 580 pp. Hardback. £50.00. ISBN: 978-0-300-22159-6.

Created 2 February 2017.