Anglo-Ceylonese School (c.1850)
The viewer’s eye pans from the British garrison across to the imposing President’s Pavilion...It was the construction of these two edificial buildings which in many ways solidified the city as a British outpost, and perhaps prompted the commissioning of this work.
Although this exceptionally evocative and rare image of old Kandy - a sacred Ceylonese site - appears primarily to be a visual celebration of its beauty, it contains a more subtle message of the last vestiges of colonial paternalism, as evinced by the inclusion of the British garrison in the far left corner, together with the central positioning of the Governor’s residence and the Christian church. A more obvious interpretation could also include the bland historical reality that a former French principality was under British rule, and a romantic outpost of Britain’s extensive dominions.
In 1796 during the Napoleonic Wars, Britain took control of the Dutch held coastal areas of Ceylon and in 1815, after previously being beaten back in 1803, it successfully took the city of Kandy with little opposition. The signing of the Kandyan Convention in March 1815 signaled the end of native rule, and George III was formally recognised by the remaining native aristocracy as the King of the land.
From the left the viewer’s eye pans from the British garrison across to the imposing President’s Pavilion, which was rebuilt in the European palatial style in around 1835 by Robert Wilmot-Horton, the then Governor of British Ceylon. To the right of the Pavilion is St Paul’s Church, which was built between 1843-8 and was later consecrated in 1853. It was the construction of these two buildings which in many ways solidified the city as a British outpost – the Pavilion as a symbol of power and administration, and the church as the core of British religious and cultural ideals. It was perhaps the construction of these two edificial buildings that prompted the commissioning of this work.
To the far right and near the edge of the sacred Kandy Lake, is the Maligawa Temple (or Temple of the Tooth), which is located within the complex previously occupied by the rulers of the Kingdom of Kandy. Traditionally it is believed that the temple contains the tooth of Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, and further expressed that whoever possesses the tooth so too possesses the rule over the kingdom. It is perhaps not coincidental therefore that it takes a secondary role within the composition and is placed adjacent to the Christian church built by the British. The white-spired building within the complex is the Patthirippua (or ‘Octagon’), which was a viewing platform for the previous rulers, and the two-story building on the edge of the lake was the Queen’s Bath, where the wives of Sri Vikrama Rajasinha – the last ruler of the Kingdom of Kandy – would bath. The little building in the middle of the lake opposite the Queen’s Bath was built on a small island known as the Diyathilaka mandapaya, and it initially functioned as a pleasure garden, however after the British gained control indications suggest it was used as a gun powder magazine.
Given the rudimentary construction of the canvas support – it is in fact two smaller canvases joined at the center – it is logical to suggest that this work was produced on site in Kandy, where supply of materials would have been somewhat limited. Although there were a number of artists who travelled through Kandy in the mid-nineteenth century including the Irish painter Andrew Nicholl (1804-86), the handling of certain elements in this work, including the mountain backdrop and foliage in the middle-distance, suggests a rather more primitive hand. It is not impossible that the artist was connected to the British military stationed in Kandy and one frequently sees portraits and landscapes painted by highly skilled military officers during periods of leave.