History & Memory

History and Memory

Lucknow's fortunes changed toward the mid-nineteenth century as the English East India Company gained ascendancy in northern India. In 1856, the British deposed Wajid Ali Shah, the last ruler of Awadh, and annexed his kingdom. One year later, Indian soldiers and their supporters at Lucknow joined the forces allied against the Company in the Great Uprising, or Mutiny, of 1857–58 (also known as the First War of Indian Independence).

During the Uprising some 3,000 people were besieged in the British Residency compound at Lucknow. Their plight and the battle to recapture the city were memorialized in various ways by British artists and photographers catering to the intense public interest in the conflict. In the aftermath of British victory, a wide gulf came to separate European and Indian memories of Lucknow.

Lucknow remained legendary for its refined Indo-Muslim culture, evident in the manners, language, dress, cuisine, and aesthetic pursuits of the city's elites. Courtesans are especially linked to the city's memory. Their highest ranks consisted of wealthy, well-educated, and exquisitely mannered women who were employed by Lucknow's nobility for musical and dance entertainments, poetry recitals, and the teaching of social etiquette. It was in their salons that Lucknow's distinctive classical music and dance forms were developed. Embodying a rich and cultivated history, Lucknow's courtesans were depicted by many Indian and European artists. They continue to dominate postcolonial imaginings of the city, particularly in Indian film. 

Image 1: Thomas Jones Barker, England, 1815–1882, The Relief of Lucknow, 1857, England, 1859, Oil on canvas, Lent by the National Portrait Gallery, London, 5851.

Image 2: Felice Beato (Active England, 1832–1909), Interior of the Sikander Bagh, after the Slaughter of 2,000 Rebels by the 93rd Highlanders, and the 4th Punjab Regt., India, Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow, 1858, Albumen print, 10 1/2 x 11 3/4 in., Howard and Jane Ricketts Collection.

Image 3: Bowl with Fish Designs, India, Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow, c. 1880–1900, Silver, 6 1/4 x 8 3/8 in., Richard Milhender.

Image 4: Tilly Kettle (England, 1735–1786), An Indian Dancing Girl with a Hookah, India, Uttar Pradesh, Faizabad, 1772, Oil on canvas, 6 x 47 in., Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, B1981.25.385.

Image 5: Egron Lundgren (Sweden, 1815–1875), Nautch Entertainment by Man Singh in Honor of Lord Clyde, the Commander-in-Chief, India, Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow, 1859, Watercolor on paper
Page 13 3/4 x 22 3/4 in., The Royal Collection, RL 19185.

Image 6: Darogah Abbas Ali (fl. c. 1860s–70s), Gummoon Jan, Dancing Girl, From The Beauties of Lucknow, consisting of twenty-four selected photographed portraits, cabinet size, of the most celebrated and popular living histrionic singers, dancing girls and actresses of the Oudh Court and of Lucknow, India, Uttar Pradesh, Awadh, 1874, Albumen prints, Album approx. 10 x 8 in., Victoria and Albert Museum, IS. 1050–1883.