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The arts were not forgotten in the British Empire. They played a key role in creating a connection between the empire and its colonies.  


                                                               The Death of Captain Cook                                      


Some of the first interactions between Britain and the colonies was during the voyages of Captain Cook as he explored the world.  Cook took artists with him on his voyages, which set a precedent for future explorers. The subsequent art was used to descried the environment, animals and people of these new lands which became invaluable to the colonizing process. Sir Joseph Banks was one of the artists of the Cook voyages.   


                            The Kangaroo, to read the interesting story about  this painting follow this link

 A View of the Monuments of Easter Island Rapanui - Part of the Moai Islands - Painted by William Hodges in 1774  


In the 19th century there was little appreciation for any art other than European. Indigenous art was seen more as anthropological research than art, therefore all art of the empire came from British artists.  Early British painters focused on the work of the heroic individual in terms of improving colonial life. This process often created myths and iconic images that were used by the British to justify imperial rule. The following image is from the Illustrated London News and depicts the Viceroy's Visit to Hawa Mahal in India. This image was spread throughout Britain to show off the grandeur and success of British influence in India. 






Up through the mid twentieth century most colonial art focused on landscapes and ethnographic paintings. Transitioning from romanticism to realism in style, these paintings focused mainly on the rural scenes so as to distance colonial art from British art, which had a more urban feel. It was not until after World War Two that the colonies began to also adopt an art that expressed the “dirtier” side of life, meaning the industries and social realities of life in an urban colony. This new trend is called social realism.


It was also after the Second World War that colonial artists began to step aside from European and American trends and instead incorporated local tradition and themes into their art, creating an indigenous art form.






Indian painting mainly consisted of portraits in the 18th century which was brought on by the spread of European styles. However, by the 1840’s the invention of the photograph decreased the desire for portraits, so artists turned to landscapes. 




Indian landscapes were picturesque rather than realistic, because artists wanted the colonial environment to fulfill certain expectations, which would make both the natives and the British more comfortable with the idea of imperialism. This trend continued into the mid-twentieth century.


 By Tilly Kettle A portrait of the sons of Nawab Muhammad Ali

Khan of Arcot



Hindu Temples on the River at Jumna, India  By Thomas Daniell





Canadian painting in the late nineteenth century focused on representing the “grandeur of the imperial and settler enterprise,” through mainly landscaped sponsored by the Canadian Pacific Railway. By the early twentieth century impressionism influences from across the Atlantic had taken hold and slowly Canadian landscapes became more symbolic and blurred.



  Mts: Emerald Lake By Lawren Harris (One of the Group of Seven, a famous group of modern Canadian artists)  




Australian colonial art in its beginnings also focused on picturesque landscapes, but with the discovery of gold, and the rapid growth in urban areas in the mid-nineteenth century, artists began to focus on a more urban and social form. Although usually the Aboriginals were left out of Australian painting, by the late nineteenth century, there was a belief that the race was dying out. As a result a period of “historical documentation” emerged where artist began taking down the likenesses of the natives in order to keep records of their existence. As the twentieth century progress artist influence from Europe help Australians to develop their own type of art, which emphasized an inclusion of native art. Eventually this also developed into a movement of resistance art, exploring the Australian need to rebel while under colonial rule. The most famous artist of this movement is Sir Sydney Nolan.



                                                            Gold Diggings by Edward Roper in 1855


                                          The Trail By Sir Sydney Nolan in 1947  This is part of his Ned Kelly series

                                                    illustrating the acts of a nationalist hero of sorts.


New Zealand:


Artists in New Zealand were often sympathetic to the native Maoris people and depicted them in their art using both classical and romantic techniques. Mid-nineteenth century artists became very involved in the landscape of west side of the South Island, and the light effects apparently in that region. In the twentieth century, New Zealand boast having a strong female artists influence not yet present in the rest of the empire.



                                            10. Patara Te-Tuhi and old warrior By Charles Frederick Goldie


British influence on the colonial arts was immense. The opportunity for many artists to study in Europe opened countless doors of the colonists, who took what they had learned and applied it to their own culture. Ironically for most artists it took seeing art through European eyes before they could develop their own unique style, which often included a revival and integration of native art and traditions. Such developments help colonies to create identities outside of the Empire and provided another outlet from which colonists could voice their wants and needs to the world.



MacKenzie, John M. "Art and the Empire." In The Cambridge Illustrated History of the British Empire, by P. J. Marshall, 296-17. Cambridge England: Cambridge University Press, 1996.