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Paintings and Drawings in the Victoria and Albert Museum


Introduction by Rosemary Crill, Deputy Curator, Indian and South East Asian Collection, Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The V&A houses one of the world’s greatest collections of Indian painting. Perhaps its greatest strength is the outstanding body of miniature paintings of the Mughal period, particularly the works of imperial quality painted by court artists for the emperors Akbar (1556-1605), Jahangir (1605-27) and Shah Jahan (1628-58). These include twenty-six folios from Akbar’s great Hamzanama – an illustrated legend that took fourteen years to complete; one hundred and seventeen illustrations to the Akbarnama (c1590), the illustrated chronicle of his reign; paintings from the royal albums of Jahangir and Shah Jahan, representing the peak of Mughal painting and reflecting the splendour of the court as well as aspects of the emperor’s personality, such as Jahangir’s love of nature as seen in the famous paintings of a turkey and a zebra.

The collections of Pahari, or Punjab Hill, paintings is one of the finest outside India, thanks largely to the collecting efforts of the late W.G. Archer. It includes lyrical scenes of the lovers Radha and Krishna, vigorous seventeenth century illustrations to the poem Rasamanjari from Basohli, and vibrantly coloured eighteenth century portraits from centres such as Mankot. Also included in the collection are several works by the brilliant artist Nainsukh who worked in the Punjab Hills in the eighteenth century.

The Rajasthani collection contains several important items such as two leaves from the Chawand Ragamala of 1605; one of the earliest known ragamala pages, from about 1525-50; splendid lion-hunts from Kota, as well as works from small but significant centres such as Junia and Ghanerao. The Rajasthani collection was greatly enhanced in 1952 by a gift from the Gayer-Anderson brothers who had collected Indian paintings and drawings over many years.

Rare early painted works include the ‘Vredenburg’ manuscript of the ‘Perfection of Wisdom’ – an illustrated Buddhist work from Bengal dated to c1118 ad; two pages from the ‘early Rajput’ Bhagavata Purana, c1525-40, and several Jain sutras and mystical diagrams, including a splendid large yantra dated 1447 AD.

The ‘Company Style’ – works done by Indian artists for British patrons – is well represented, the schools of Tanjore, Bengal and Mysore being particularly strong.

Later categories include the lively bazaar paintings of Kalighat in Calcutta; popular painting from Mithila in Bihar; works by Rabindranath Tagore and his nephews; late nineteenth century paintings from the Schools of Art, as well as paintings and drawings by contemporary artists working both in Britain and in India.

The collection also includes a large number of works by European artists working in India, mostly during the nineteenth century, but these have not been included in this microfiche publication.

The catalogue that accompanies this microfiche was written by curators of the V&A’s Indian and South-East Asian Collection: Rosemary Crill, John Gray, Graham Parlett, Susan Strange and Deborah Swallow. Most entries were newly created for this purpose, but where published catalogues of sections of the collection existed, information was taken from these. Fuller details of paintings in those sections may thus be found in the following publications:

  • W.G. Archer, Indian Painting in the Punjab Hills, London & New York, Sotheby, 1973.
  • W.G. Archer, Paintings of the Sikhs, London, HMSO, 1966.
  • W.G. Archer, Kalighat Painting, London, HMSO, 1971.
  • W.G. Archer, Indian Painting in Bundi and Kotah, London, HMSO, 1959.
  • M. Archer, Company Painting, London & Ahmedabad, V&A/Mapin, 1992.

In all sections except Company Painting and Popular Painting: Kalighat, the medium of the paintings is gouache on paper unless otherwise stated. For the media of items in the Company section, please refer to M. Archer, Company Painting, and for those in the Popular Painting: Kalighat section to W.G. Archer, Kalighat Painting.

Information on the paintings has been kept to a minimum in this catalogue. Details of acquisition and former ownership have thus not been included, although the V&A gratefully acknowledges the many gifts and bequests that have enriched the collection throughout its history.

Rosemary Crill
Deputy Curator
Indian and South East Asian Collection
Victoria & Albert Museum



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