Uncle and nephew Thomas (1749-1840) and William Daniell (1769-1837) came from a family of English painters and printmakers. The elder Daniell, a painter trained at the Royal Academy Schools, took over his orphaned nephew’s education, travelling with William to India in 1784.
Arriving in Calcutta, the Daniells published a proposal for twelve views of the city. This was well received and, with the help of skilled Indian engravers, they produced a series of images which appealed to European expatriates living in the rapidly-expanding city. The success of this venture persuaded Thomas and William to make a sketching tour of northern India and the Himalayas (1788-91). This was followed by another, through southern and western India, in response to increased European interest in the region during the Third Mysore War (1789-92).
Thomas Daniell’s astute business sense and grasp of the art market enabled him and his nephew to make a substantial profit upon their return to England in 1794. Their opus Oriental Scenery was published in six parts between 1795 and 1808, comprising 144 fine hand-coloured aquatints selling for £210, or about £168,000 today. Thirty sets were purchased by the East India Company alone, with more sold to private buyers.
The Daniells’ work was praised by contemporaries as being very fine in its execution, and faithful to the scenes of India represented within it. Both men remained respected landscape artists, elected to the Royal Academy, and William went on to produce more successful aquatint series including A Voyage Round Britain (1825).
The views of India produced and published by the Daniells remain some of the very best topographical works ever produced of the country. Representing the zenith of achievement in aquatint, they are highly prized and collectible works today.