In 1884, the painter Vasily Vereshchagin drew on canvas the cruelty of the British during the First War of India’s Independence in 1857.
This is the painting. It is called ‘Suppression of the Indian Revolt by the English’.
The painting is quite disturbing as it shows the extent of British cruelty. The men are tied to cannons ready to be blown off to pieces. The closest to the frame is a helpless old man writhing in pain. Tied to the cannon with his back facing the muzzle, he is clearly in anguish as a British Imperial soldier looks on.
This method of execution was called ‘Blowing from a gun’ and was extensively used by the then British rulers of East India Company during the war of 1857 against Indians who participated in the freedom struggle.
Vasily’s painting, almost photographic, captures the barbarism of the British against the first revolutionaries who raised arms against the injustice of the Raj.
Though the painting was made much after the 1857 war, the British feared that the powerfully evocative painting would stir up another wave of nationalism. It is believed that the British crown purchased the original painting only to destroy it. A photo of the art is available with the US Library of Congress Prints and Photo Collection.
What is interesting is that the painting was made a year after Vasily’s India visit, from 1882-1883, implying that this form of execution was used even at that time though the British have constantly denied it.