OFF/HORECA Programme


CALCUTTA 1990. Bengali Palaces and Vestiges of Her Majesty's Empire Photographs by Fabien de Cugnac and François Loze

The population of Bengal is historically the most culturally imbued in India by the English occupation. Its elites were closely linked to the English East India Company. In Calcutta was concentrated a population composed of members of the administration of the company, soldiers and large families, comfortably established, taking part in the trade, and even financing the Company by its loans, for its commercial operations, but also military. This intertwining of economic interests, proximities and mutual cultural influences was the breeding ground for a cultural refoundation that affected philosophy, religion, the arts, developing among the Bengali elites, some of whom had sometimes attended English schools and universities. The emergence of a middle class formed in colleges and new local universities, including that of Calcutta, created in 1857, amplified the movement. It eventually affected a large part of Indian society at the end of the 19th century. The attraction for the architectural heritage of Calcutta has historically focused on English residences and official buildings dating from the colonial period more than on the great palaces of the Bengali city. But the palaces hidden in the meanders of the north of the city, evoking Greece and ancient Rome by their general forms, borrowing details and ornamentation from the local arts, also did not fail to fascinate visitors. At the time of their construction, they were surrounded by gardens but in the 20th century, under the effect of demographic pressure, economic decline and successions, the city gradually swallowed up in its development the heritage of a caste which had lost it’s economic status. The nationalization of a large part of its land holdings and the abolition of the privileges of this caste by the new Indian state in 1947 explain this urban development. During their photographic reports, Fabien de Cugnac and François Loze sometimes were lucky enough to be introduced to the reception interiors of these residences, immersed in the half-light of living rooms with closed shutters, intact for so many generations, far from the heat and the tumult of the neighboring alleys. The portraits of the ancestors, the large mirrors chipped by time, the chandeliers, the armchairs, this style furniture still testify to the Western influence among the Bengali elites in the 19th century. François Loze

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