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William Daniell(Kingston-upon-Thames1769 - London1837)

William Daniell was born in Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey. His father was a bricklayer and owner of a public house called The Swan in near-by Chertsey. Daniell’s future career was dramatically changed when he was sent to live with his uncle Thomas (1749–1840) after the premature death of his father in 1779. Thomas Daniell (born Chertsey, 1749; died London, 19 March 1840) was apprenticed to a coach painter and in 1773 entered the Royal Academy Schools; between 1774 and 1784 he exhibited topographical views and flower pieces at the Royal Academy. Having become responsible for bringing up his orphaned nephew William, in 1784 he decided to travel to India with his nephew and work there as an engraver. William’s brother Samuel Daniell (born 1775; died Ceylon [now Sri Lanka], Dec 1811) remained independent of his uncle and also became a topographical artist; he went to South Africa in 1801 and after his return to England published African Scenery and Animals (1804–5), a collection of aquatints. From 1806 he lived in Ceylon.

On arriving in Calcutta in 1786, Thomas Daniell published a proposal for engraving 12 views of the city. This seemed a promising idea, since Calcutta was rapidly expanding and its European inhabitants might be willing to buy engravings showing its latest buildings. Both he and William were inexperienced engravers and had to enlist the help of Indian craftsmen, but the set was completed in November 1788 and sold well. Thomas next began planning an ambitious tour of north India, possibly inspired by the wealth of picturesque scenery indicated in William Hodges’s collection of aquatints, Select Views in India (1785–8). In August 1789 Thomas and William set off up-river past Murshidabad to Bhagalpur, where they stayed with Samuel Davis (?1756–1819), an employee of the East India Company and a skilled amateur artist. They continued on to Kanpur and then travelled overland to Delhi, visiting Agra, Fatehpur Sikri and Mathura on the way; the following April they made a pioneering tour to Srinagar and Garhwal in the Himalayas.

On their return journey they visited Lucknow, Allahabad and Banaras (now Varanasi), made a detour to the great Mughal fort near Sasaram and to the Barabar Caves and were back in Calcutta at the end of 1791. They held a lottery of their completed work, using the proceeds to fund a tour to the south. Since the Third Mysore War was in progress, the Daniells suspected that a market existed among the British for oil paintings and drawings of the areas in which the conflict was taking place. They duly visited various hill-forts on their way south, as well as the huge and richly carved temples at Madurai, Mamallapuram and Rameswaram. Once back in Madras they held another lottery of their work and set off on a tour to western India. On their arrival at Bombay in March 1793 they met James Wales (1747–95), then busy drawing the area’s cave temples. He took them to Elephanta, Karli and Kanheri among other places.

In September 1794 the Daniells returned to England and began working up drawings into coloured aquatints, 144 of which were issued in the six-volume Oriental Scenery (1795–1808). They also worked up oils from their drawings for exhibitions at the British Institution and the Royal Academy, to which Thomas was elected in 1799 and William in 1822. Having made long tours through Britain with Thomas, William produced hand-coloured aquatints for Richard Ayton’s A Picturesque Voyage round Great Britain (1814–25), as well as views of London. He also made aquatints from watercolours by George Dance, Samuel Davis and Robert Smith. Nevertheless, it was for Oriental Scenery that the Daniells became famous, for it took its place alongside J. Stuart and N. Revett’s Antiquities of Athens (1762), Baron Denon’s Voyage dans la basse et la haute Egypte (1802) and Robert Wood’s Ruins of Palmyra (1753) and Ruins of Balbek (1757). It provided an entirely new vision of the Indian subcontinent that was to influence both decorative arts and British architectural design. Above all, it formed a popular vision in Britain of a romantic and picturesque India that to some extent persists.

William’s shipping scenes, such A Bird’s-Eye View of the East India Dock at Blackwell (National Maritime Museum, London), were supplemented by greatly admired battle pieces. In 1825, he won a prize of £100 for a pair of the Battle of Trafalgar, exhibited at the British Institution. He continued to work until his death 12 years later.

William Daniell is represented in the following collections: National Portrait Gallery, London; Royal Academy of Arts, London; National Maritime Museum, London; Courtauld Institute of Art, London; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; National Museums and Galleries of Wales, Cardiff; Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indiana; Falmouth Art Gallery, Falmouth; Dallas Museum of Art, Texas; Watford Museum, England; amongst others.