Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Ooty Preserved : A Footnote or Codicil

There were a few appreciative comments on the Ooty Peacocke post within a short time of its issue in the blog. The most interesting of them is one from Swapna, saying : "Lovely to read your post on the Peacocke prints.

The entire set of 16 are part of the Raj Bhavan art collection in Ooty, which I had the privilege to view two months ago. But the prints there are black and white - no tints added!"

Very true and very much to the point. It feels good to know that there are some like Swapna who do go through some of the posts in this blog with interest. Thank you Swapna.

Rather than merely post a reply to the comment, I publish below, as a sort of epilogue to the post, my responses to Swapna. Because, she has been very perceptive in noting the state of the Govt House, Ooty lithos and the point she makes is important enough to justify this codicil. Here is my guess or explanation about the black and white lithos : "Thanks, I too had noticed that the Govt House lithos appear, repeat appear, to be in black and white state. My explanation, or guessplanation, for it is that : a) these might be "first proof" pulls from the press, i.e printed from only the master or key stone which is inked only in black and b), if so they were probably presented by the artist to the Governor of Madras (Govt House, Ooty being very much on the map by the 1840's). Or it may be that c) the tints have simply faded over time, because there is a suggestion of a tint in at least some of them. Unless one can examine one of the lithos, out of the frame, in the hand, in good light and with a magnifier it is hard to tell. In any case, a tint is only a very light overlay given on the paper to provide the image with an overall tonal wash, as it were.

FYI, a "first proof" is an artist's proof to decide whether the engraved or lithographed image is good for printing or if the master stone or plate needs to be touched up further. As such, a first proof would usually have the artist's remarks in pencil about the touch-ups needed. The Ooty lithos do not but it would have been an easy matter for Peacocke to get an extra set of the first proofs, sort of artist's perk you see, and present it to the Governor. This also presupposes that Peacocke, who was back in England in 1847 when the lithos were issued, and the Marquiss of Tweeddale, the Madras Governor of the day, knew each other (else there is some other explanation for the provenance of the Govt House lithos which, of course, I can not know of). Hence, guessplanation.

I, on purpose, did not mention the Govt House lithos in the first blog post. Because, the explanation would have been technical, that is to say dull, and in any case I can only guess about their seeming black and white state. I did manage, on the quiet, to get a decent shot of one of the Govt House lithos which I put below in all its stark, first proof state of grace". I leave it to you to judge for yourselves if faint fawn and grey tints are apparent in some parts of the image or not".

View at Ootacamund, Neilgherries

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