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The Ghauts at Benares; View of part of the City of Benares on the River Ganges, in the East Indies; The Ghats at Benares

William Hodges1787

Royal Academy of Arts

Royal Academy of Arts
London, United Kingdom

This painting is William Hodges’ depiction of the broad flights of steps (known as ghauts or ghats) for ceremonial bathing, which lined the Western bank of the Ganges at Benares in India.

Hodges was the first professional British landscape painter to visit India, which was at the time colonised by the British East India Company. He toured the country from 1780 to 1783. During this time, he visited the ancient city of Benares (now known as Varanasi), accompanied by the British monarch’s representative in the colony, Governor-General Warren Hastings.

Like many of his country’s imperial invaders, Hodges believed that India was a titillatingly timeless and exotic place; somewhere to gawp at (if not plunder and destroy) cultures and people far removed from his own apparently civilised, modern homeland. He recorded in his Travels in India (1793) that there he could “contemplate the pure Hindoo manners, arts, buildings, and customs… [since] the same manners and customs prevail amongst these people at this day, as the remotest period that can be traced in history.”

Although he worked from sketches made in India, Hodges painted this picture in London, There, he applied European Neoclassical painting conventions to the compositional arrangement and finish, creating a polished picturesque scene rather than an accurate one. Much like in other aspects of British colonialism, European idealism has been imposed onto reality. The result is a fictional, romantic idea of colonial India that fed into British people’s distorted ideas of what was happening there.

Details

  • Title: The Ghauts at Benares; View of part of the City of Benares on the River Ganges, in the East Indies; The Ghats at Benares
  • Creator: William Hodges RA
  • Date Created: 1787
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Photo credit: © Royal Academy of Arts, London; photographer: John Hammond
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Royal Academy Picture Library number: PL000945
  • Physical dimensions: Height: 91.5 cm, width: 130.8 cm

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