Iconic painting of Delhi Durbar of 1903 restored
The art work, measuring 17 feet by 11 feet, will soon be put on display at one of the renovated galleries of the Victoria Memorial Hall in Kolkata
One of the biggest and most iconic oil paintings in the collection of Victoria Memorial Hall (VMH) depicting the Delhi Durbar of 1903, has been restored and will be soon put on display at one of its renovated galleries.
Titled State Entry Into Delhi, the painting was commissioned by the then British government. Painted by British artist Roderick Mackenzie, the picture shows Viceroy Lord Curzon, seated on an elephant and leading the ceremonial procession of the Delhi Durbar followed by several Indian kings. The procession goes past the north side of the magnificent Jama Masjid, rendered in splendour with its large dome and towering minarets.
The 1903 Delhi Durbar, which was held after the death of Queen Victoria death in 1901, also marked the declaration of Edward VII and Queen Alexandra as the Emperor and Empress of the country.
A few years ago, a termite attack had affected the painting and the conservation unit of the VMH took on the job of restoring the painting to its former glory.
The sheer size of the painting, which measured 17 feet by 11 feet posed a great challenge, Dibakar Karmakar from the restoration unit of VMH said. Mr. Karmakar and his colleague Baishakhi Mullick spent two years working on the restoration.
“It was such an arduous task that we have prepared a documentary on the whole process,” Mr. Karmakar said.
Jayanta Sengupta, secretary and curator of VMH said, “The painting depicts an important event in India’s history.” Delhi Durbar, as the term suggests, is borrowed from Mughal vocabulary and with all its pomp and grandeur was an attempt by the British to appropriate Mughal culture, he said.
So significant is the historical image that copies made by Roderick Mackenzie are available in other museums, including one at Bristol Museum, Mr. Sengupta said.
The Victoria Memorial Hall has 434 oil paintings, among the largest collections in the country. “Most of the paintings were done between 1750 and the 1850s, before the advent of photography. These painting are not treasures of art but the only visual tool that depicts India, Indians and the country’s landscapes before the advent of photography,” the curator explained.
The paintings, which were with Maharajas and private collectors, came to Victoria Memorial Hall at the persuasion of Lord Curzon when the memorial was conceived and built between 1906 and 1921.
“Conservation of these paintings, which for almost 100 years have been with individuals in a tropical climate, poses a great challenge for us at the VMH,” Mr. Sengupta added.
Among the collection of paintings at the VMH are the works of art by Thomas and William Danielle, the uncle-nephew duo who went about capturing landscapes of the country in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The set of about 70 paintings make it the largest collection of the Daniells anywhere in the world, according to the VMH. The museum also has paintings by Johan Zoffany, Robert Home and Tilly Kettle.
A significant painting in the collection is by Russian artist Vassili Verestchain. Titled The Prince of Wales at Jaipur, 1876, the art is linked to the first Delhi Durbar, when Queen Victoria was accorded the title of Kaisar-i-Hind ( Emperor of India). Measuring about 25 feet by 20 feet, this is the biggest painting in the collection of VMH. It depicts a stately procession passing through the Ambar-Chaupar before the Hawa Mahal of Jaipur. Mr. Sengupta described it as the third biggest oil painting in the world.
The VMH has plans to display both the paintings depicting the first Delhi Durbar and the Second Delhi Durbar at the renovated galleries of the museum. One of the most visited museums in the country, the VMH is going through a major makeover funded by the Union Ministry of Culture. Once the makeover is complete, 100 oil paintings will be put on display at the galleries.