Wednesday, December 19, 2012
The modest entrance does not do justice to what is the country's first institutionalized school for the fine arts. Though there were groups of artists following a particular style and sensibility of painting and sculpture practicing in different parts of India, they were more like guilds than educational institutions. It was in Madras that the first formal teaching institution for the fine arts, the Madras School of Arts, was established in 1850.
Unlike many other institutions that came up in those days, this has moved only once. It began life as a private institution, set up by Dr. Alexander Hunter, who thought of it as a commercial venture, and instruction was more about imitating ethnic products to be shipped out to Europe. Finding it difficult to maintain the quality of instruction because of its 'private' status, Hunter agreed to stay on as the Principal and allowed the government to take over the school. Renaming it Government School of Industrial Arts, the authorities moved it away from Popham's Broadway to its current location on Poonamallee High Road.
The Madras School has been a pioneer, especially in recognizing that fine arts went beyond painting and sculpture. Photography, as a course of instruction, was introduced as early as 1855; the work done by the students has been collected into 17 volumes of photographs of Madras and its surroundings. These are still available in the college library - but you would have a hard time identifying even one of them in its current location!