Passage to India

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Passage to India

MASTER STROKES ‘Two Nautch Girls’ and ‘Royal Elephant at the Gateway to the Jami Masjid, Mathura’.

One of the most celebrated American Orientalists, Weeks was born in Boston to affluent parents; he developed an interest in painting and travelling as a young man. His first travels began in 1871 to Egypt, Syria and Morocco ‘where he filled his sketchbooks with North African scenes’; many more voyages to the East followed during the coming decades.

His first trip to India was in 1883, when he is said to have ‘spent every day painting and every night developing his photographs’. He was to return again in 1892 where he spent two years before returning to Paris.

Weeks made his name as a distinguished painter of oriental scenes. He made three lengthy trips to India and painted her in all her magnificence. His paintings of Delhi, Banaras, Udaipur, Amritsar and other cities of India made him a celebrity in France and America.

Having trained under Léon Bonnat in Paris, Weeks was particularly adept in studying the effects of natural light and shadow. His paintings showed a keen sense of detail and observation, mastery over colours and moods and as importantly an urge to depict the scenes truly and realistically. Every building was accurately drawn, and every surface of wall, garment and animal richly rendered. Of all the Western painters, Weeks produced the largest and most compelling pictorial album of India.

People and places

AWE-INSPIRING ‘The Last Voyage’.Weeks painted symbols of royalty like the palaces, forts, havelis, forts as well as decorated horses and elephants with bright colours. He did not forget to portray ordinary people and their dwellings in his paintings.

From the resting nautch girls in Agra,  water carriers of Gujarat,  pilgrims in the precincts of Golden Temple in Amritsar, festival makers at Salim Chisti’s dargah to the dying man in Banaras — Weeks had them all captured in his work. 

Temples, mosques and market places were prominently featured in his work. Scenes like the Lake Palace in Udaipur, Jama Masjid in Delhi, bathing ghats in Benares were pictured with warmth and intensity. Weeks’ hunt paintings were superbly rendered and held a subtle commentary of the times. The focus of each of his paintings was on the scene rather than on individuals.

In 1885, at Queen Victoria's invitation, Weeks displayed his ‘Indian Works’ at The Empire of India Exhibition in London. That same year, he wrote and illustrated a book of travels, From the Black Sea through Persia and India, a compendium of his three expeditions from the 1870s to the 1890s. Two years later, he published his book, Episodes of Mountaineering.

Weeks was made a Knight of the Legion of Honour (France) in 1896. Known to have been a reserved but kind and affable man with a quiet voice, Weeks continued to paint right up to his mysterious death in 1903 in Paris.

Sudden death

In October 2008, Weeks’ painting Departure for the Hunt in the Forecourt of a Palace of Jodhpore (39 x 28 inch / painted circa 1898-1900) was sold for $578,500 at Christie’s auction of 19th Century European Art and Orientalist Art, in New York. 

The painting showed a striking palace front and massive stone archway gate as the backdrop for figures assembling for a royal hunt. Among the most striking figures were a standing falconer, draped in a brilliant crimson shawl and the mounted Rajah dressed in opulent royal silks wearing his rakish turban emblematic of the region.

“Departure for the Hunt in the Forecourt of a Palace of Jodhpore is truly a ‘star’ painting that exemplifies Weeks’ very best Indian work,” stated Christie’s catalogue entry. “It demonstrates that his powers were at their height when he executed this exquisite painting in Paris not long before his sudden death at the prematurely young age of 54... It also clearly demonstrates that his Indian work was the true love of his artistic life.”

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