After JOHN LOCKWOOD KIPLING (1837-1911)
[Australia? United Kingdom? : artist unknown : between 1901 and 1910]. Carving from teak wood (Tectona grandis) in high relief, 580 x 340 x 40 mm, set in its fully contemporary oak frame, 680 x 440 mm; the carving is unsigned, and the back of the frame is also sans label or inscription; the work is in fine original state, and appears to have never been removed from the frame.
This impressive relief wood carving by an anonymous but highly proficient artist is an accurate contemporary copy of one of the suite of ten low-relief terra-cotta plaques modelled by Rudyard Kipling’s father, John Lockwood Kipling, which were used as the photographic plate illustrations in the first American and first English book editions of Kipling’s novel Kim. The first American book edition was published in New York City by Doubleday, Page & Company on 1 October 1901; the first English book edition quickly followed, published in London by Macmillan and Co. on 17 October 1901. Lockwood Kipling’s illustrations continued to be used in numerous successive editions on both sides of the Atlantic. Kim was hugely successful and has, over time, cemented its place as one of the most popular works of fiction in the English language. The novel is set during the 1890s, prior to the Third Afghan War, against the backdrop of The Great Game – the political conflict between Russia and Britain in Central Asia.
Yorkshire-born artist and teacher John Lockwood Kipling (1837-1911), an influential figure in the Arts and Crafts movement, spent most of his career in India. He first arrived there in 1865 to take up his position as professor of architectural sculpture in the Jeejeebhoy School of Art in Bombay. His son Rudyard was born in Bombay in December 1865. In 1875 Kipling was appointed the Principal of Mayo School of Arts, Lahore, British India and also became curator of the old Lahore Museum, the institution on which the Wonder House, or Ajaib Ghar, is based in Kim. He retired back to England in 1893.
Lockwood Kipling provided the illustrations for many of Rudyard Kipling’s books, including his two most famous works, The Jungle Book and Kim, as well as for Flora Annie Steel’s Tales of the Punjab. He is known for his architectural decorations for the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and friezes on the Crawford Market in Bombay. Kipling also designed the uniforms and decorations used in the Imperial Assemblage at Delhi in 1877, at which Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India.
While there can be little doubt that the present work was created by an admirer of both Rudyard Kipling and Lockwood Kipling, we can only speculate as to whether the carver was closely associated with either the writer or the artist. The carving was sourced in Australia, a country where Rudyard Kipling’s work was extremely popular and which he had visited in 1891; while Lockwood Kipling had provided a carved showcase for the Melbourne Exhibition in 1879, and had himself visited Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide in 1892, around the time of the publication of his book Beast and Man in India. There is therefore some likelihood of the carving having been made by an Australian artist, possibly someone who had met one or even both of the Kiplings. More remote possibilities are that the artist was a member of Lockwood Kipling’s circle in England, or one of the many Indian pupils whom he had trained as craftsmen.
The absence of a firm attribution notwithstanding, this superb recreation in wood of The Lama is an important testament to the type of adulation and veneration that Rudyard Kipling and his works attracted across the Empire, and indeed the world, in this period. Kipling was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907.
Provenance: Private collection, Melbourne