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Chapter I

Policies and ideologies of craft revival in colonial India:

Exhibitions, Museums and Art Schools in Calcutta

The recovery of the traditional arts of Bengal by the

middle class Bengali intelligentsia in the late 19th and early 20th
century may be traced back to the broader colonial concerns about
preserving the craft traditions of India. This chapter points to the
centrality of the craft project in colonial art education and focuses on
some of the institutions through which the British government
implemented it. The entire colonial endeavour of reviving and
promoting Indian crafts rested on two important planks — the
organization of new world exhibitions oriented towards showcasing the
traditional crafts for their decorative value, and the setting up of art
schools in different parts of India in the 1850s. Colonial art education
foregrounded the preservation of traditional Indian design, skill and
craftsmanship, but in practice, it imposed Western technical skills for
producing crafts according to new tastes and norms of progress. The
diversity of colonial ideologies shaping art education policies in India
led to deviations in implementing schemes of craft revival in the art
schools. This study explores the paradoxical effects of these craft
policies as the traditional arts of Bengal were roped into the project of
colonial art education.

The colonial initiative of documenting Indian art

and crafts over the 1880s and 90s, through surveys of ‘industrial art’
and census reports, brought to light a wealth of information about the
prevailing traditional arts of Bengal. The hosting of the Calcutta
International Exhibition of 1883-4 would vigorously draw Calcutta and
Bengal into the expanding international circuit of exhibiting the
‘industrial arts’ of the empire. Tracing the origins of that landmark
event in Bengal to the Great London Exhibition of 1851 and its
subsequent network of exhibition committees and local displays in

different parts of India, provides an interesting history of the nature of

colonial collecting and display. Apart from promoting commercial and
pedagogic interest in Indian crafts, the Calcutta International
Exhibition also provided a forum for the display of rural arts that
catered exclusively to indigenous ritual and religious practices, that
later came to be designated as folk arts by latter-day craft ideologues.
It further marked the establishment of an integrated art complex in
Calcutta comprising the Indian Museum, the Art Gallery and the
Government School of Art in 1887 as a centre of artistic tutelage and
promotion of traditional art industries. At the same time, a sketch of
the history of Government College of Art in Calcutta and its periodic
efforts at craft revival reveals the institution’s parallel attempt at
promotion of ‘industrial art.’ A study of the pattern of craft training
implemented through institutions such as jails, orphanages, mission
schools, trade shops and ‘Schools of industrial art’ demonstrates the
way in which a network of institutions operated outside the art school.
Through a juxtaposition of the exhibition and teaching practices, this
chapter unveils the problems and dilemmas attending the colonial
policies towards resuscitating Indian crafts and ‘industrial arts.’

1 -The Early Development of British Art Education in India

Though Indo-European trade had thrived on Indian

textiles and luxury crafts since the 16th century, the primacy of Indian
design in the European industrial and fashion world first surfaced in
1851, with the display of Indian ‘ornamental art’ at “The Great
Exhibition of the Industry of all Nations” in London.1 In the wake of
industrialization, the crisis of design and traditional craftsmanship in
England spurred on a new aesthetic movement, where reformist
designers and art educationists like Owen Jones and Henry Cole turned
to the Indian ‘decorative arts’ for inspiration.2 In his prime text, The

'Partha Mitter, Much Maligned Monsters, Chp. 5 & 6.

2 Ibid, p.221.

Grammar of Ornament, Jones valorized Indian principles of design —

flat ornamentation, absence of shadow, and harmonious colour
composition — as an alternative to the illusionist principles of
Victorian design. This formed the basis of the syllabus of the new
industrial design schools that were founded under the aegis of Henry
Cole for the training of artisans, in marked contrast to the art
academies, which imparted Western scientific drawing to the educated
youth to train as artists.3 Owing to the gulf in intellect between the
artisan and the artist, an inferior status was ascribed to the ‘decorative
art’ of the English design schools compared to ‘pictorial art’ of the art
academies. It was in this sphere of the ‘decorative arts’ [seen as a
‘lesser art,’ associated with skill, as against the ‘fine arts,’ that was
considered to be a ‘higher art’ associated with ‘intellect,’] that Indian
art found a niche in the English scheme of art education.4 And it was a
preoccupation with only the ‘decorative’ and ‘craft’ values of Indian
art that shaped the early nature of colonial art education in India.

Another strand of influence in shaping colonial craft

policy in India came from the ideas of John Ruskin and William
Morris, out of the Arts and Crafts movement, which in its discontent
with Victorian industrialism and nostalgic impetus to revive the pre-
industrial tradition of craftsmanship, advocated the revival of
medieval, social and cultural values. As India was considered to be an
ideal site for such values, both writers shared an enthusiasm for
preserving traditional Indian crafts and skill in craftsmanship from the
brunt of mechanization initiated by the pernicious British government.5
The discovery of the country's living tradition of craftsmanship and
traditional design highlighted the ‘decorative arts’ as a prime focus of
commercial and aesthetic interest in England.6 In pre-colonial India,

3 Ibid., pp.228-238. Partita Mitter, “Status and patronage of artists during British rule in India,” Barbara
Stoler Miller, ed Powers ofArt Patronage in Indian Culture, Oxford, 1992, pp.281-282.
*Tapati Guha-Thakurta, The Making ofa New Indian Art, p.36.
5 Partha Mitter, Much Maligned Monsters, pp.249-251 & 228-38.
6 The Illustrated Catalogue of the Great Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations, London, 1851,
pp.378-458. Tapati Guha -Thakurta, Monuments, Objects, Histories, p.49.

different ‘caste-crafts’ with primarily utility value were hereditarily

produced over generations, along with luxury crafts for the Mughal
court that enjoyed an export demand.7 But with the decline of the
Mughal Empire, the artisans were deprived of their traditional
patronage at the local courts, and were increasingly forced to serve the
Westernized tastes of the British residents, the Indian royalty and the
“nouveau riche” of British India.8 The native artisans catering to
Western taste produced a hybrid genre of art objects that came to be
criticized by European officers as “mongrel forms of art” representing
a decline in taste.9

It was ostensibly with a view to improving the

quality of traditional art ware and to stem the tide of artistic
degradation that the colonial officers in India invoked the twin
principles of paternalism and utilitarianism, in advocating art
education on the lines of Western science and progress.10 The majority
of the officers, imbued with a sense of racial superiority, were driven
by the Victorian moral obligation to inculcate good taste among the
Indians and confer the benefits of useful and practical knowledge. But
underlying this moral cause was a deeper practical concern about the
decline of exports and the need to train draftsmen and clerks for the
expanding government posts. This concern for Indian crafts was
voiced through the contrasting opinions of James Mill, the author of
The History of British India, and Sir George Birdwood, the author of
The Industrial Arts of India both of whom championed the cause of
preserving traditional Indian design and craftsmanship from the
onslaught of industrialization.nBoth Mill and Birdwood argued that the
worth of Indian art lay not in “Indian painting and sculpture” but in

7 Sudhangsfci Kumar Ray, The Folk Art ofIndia, Yogalayam, Calcutta, 1967, p.3.
* Emulating Western taste Indian elites displayed family portraits and memorabilia of European art
objects in palace-galleries, as could be seen at die Mullick family collection at Marble Palace and the
Tagore family collection at Pathuriaghata. Partha Mltter, Art and Nationalism in Colonial India: 1850-
1922, pp.23-24.
9 Partha Mitter, “Status and Patronage of Artists,”op.ciL, pp.279-80.
10 Ibid., p.183.

ornamentation. Birdwood condemned the incongruity of the pictorial

forms of Pauranic deities of the Hindu pantheon as a corruption, and
instead praised Indian design, whose superiority he attributed to the
lost ideals of Indian village society.12 Advocating the revival of Indian
art manufacturing traditions, Birdwood represented a small section of
the Indian officialdom, who shared the values of designers like Owen
Jones and Henry Cole. Like them, they saw in Indian design, a purer
form of ornamental art and lamented the decline of these superior
principles of design under the impact of Western industrialization in
India.13 •

There were, however, various divergences of opinion

and ideas even among this select group of British craft enthusiasts in
England and India. Thus, while Jones and Cole praised the originality
and creativity of Indian craftsmen, Mill and Birdwood merely
recognized the Indian capacity to be tutored in Western methods of
scientific drawing and geometric precision. Again, while they shared a
similar fascination for Indian design and craftsmanship, Ruskin and
Mill had a low opinion of Asian society, considered Indians to be
savage and barbaric and Indian ornamentation to be a product of a
violent and immoral people. For Ruskin, therefore, “combining
scientific and intellectual progress with proficiency in manual skill”
was deemed essential both for improving crafts skill and for the social,
moral and intellectual refinement of Indians.14

Art education in India, thus, played a dual role in

disseminating Western taste and recovering the traditional handicrafts
of superior design. On the one hand, art education in India was meant
to produce a class of professionally skilled artisans whose skills and
products would cater to the needs of the Westernized elite. On the

11 James Mill, The History of British India, London, 1817, G.C.M Birdwood, The Industrial Arts of
India, pp. 131-4.Discussed in Ratnabali Chatterjee, From the Karkhana to the Studio, p.76.
12 G.C.M.Birdwood, pp3 3,131 -2.Partha Mitler, Much Maligned Monsters, pp.176-77.
13 Ibid.,pp.133-4; Partha Mitter, Ibid-, pp.233-235.
14 Partha Mitler, “Status and Patronage of Artists,”op.cit, p.284.

other hand, it also aimed to widen employment opportunities over and

above the demand for services by the rapidly expanding “professional
classes.”15 As these dual priorities dictated the policy of the art schools
in India, the Department of Public Instruction established twenty-two
industrial schools including the four art schools at Madras, Bombay,
Calcutta, and Lahore, all of which were intended to impart a craft
based, technical and employment-oriented art education.16 The first art
schools in India were modelled on the Central School of Design in
South Kensington, where the syllabus was formulated on the basis of
Jones’s The Grammar of Ornament that imparted Indian principles of
design based on a study of natural forms. Yet, paradoxically, the same
Indian schools also introduced Western scientific drawing as the core
of academic art training and even reverted to the principles of
illusionist Victorian design as the epitome of progress in India.17

This dichotomy in the functioning of the art

schools often led to a diversification in their development. For
example, while the Madras and Lahore art schools emphasized purely
craft and industrial training, the Bombay and Calcutta art schools saw
the emergence of an exclusive ‘fine art’ section. Though Bombay also
promoted industrial art to a limited extent at the Reay Art Workshop,
Calcutta had no such outlet for promoting industrial art manufactures,
and acquired its reputation mainly for its ‘fine arts’ and technical
education. Students of bhadralok families of Calcutta, faced with a
crisis of employment, looked to the Calcutta school as a centre for
mechanical and vocational training, and as an alternative to higher
university education.18 Thus, instead of reviving traditional handicrafts,
students were trained in Western standards of representational

15 The Educational Despatch of 1854, Papers Relating to Maintenance of Schools of Art in India as
State Institutions 1893-96; 1898, p.l.
I6Tapati Guha -Thakurta, The Making of a New Indian Art, p.59.J.C.Bagal, History of the Government
College of Art and Craft, Government College of Art Centenary Volume, 1864-1964, Calcutta,
17 Alexander Hunter, Correspondence on the subject ofthe extension ofArt Education in (Efferent parts
ofIndia, 1867, p.l.
1 Tapati Guha -Thakurta, The Making ofa New Indian Art, p.69.

accuracy, to become “native drawing masters, skilled draftsmen,

architects, modellers, wood engravers, lithographers and designers for
manufacture,” to meet the expanding government need for semi skilled

That the above jobs had begun to qualify as a

respectable and lucrative profession was obvious from the enthusiastic
response of the Bengali middle class, who had collected funds to save
the fledgling art school in Calcutta at a time of its financial crisis in
1854.20 The earliest endeavour in vocational and technical education in
Calcutta was the ‘Mechanics Institute,’ founded on 26th February 1839
by Frederick Corbyn, the Editor of Indian Review and Tarachand
Chakrobarty of the Young Bengal group. By 2nd March 1854, the
patrons of that Indo-European private enterprise had widened their
platform to Indian landed aristocracy to form the ‘Society for the
Promotion of Industrial Art,’ imparting lessons based on ‘scientific
method’ among the youth for promoting their social utility. The drive
for a “Union of Science, Industry and Arts” found a more concrete
expression with the establishment of the ‘School of Industrial Art' at
Garanhata, Chitpore on 16th August 1854, which was converted into a
full fledged ‘Government School of Art’ in 1864.21

Over the 1880s and 90s, with the repeated need to

justify the public maintenance of art schools, British officials
suggested the absorbing of art schools within the broader scheme of
technical education and the setting up of provincial museums for
preserving the art manufactures of ‘superior design.’22 By 1893-94, it
was evident that the art examination, modelled on the ‘City and Guilds

19 H.HXocke, [Principal of the Calcutta School of Art], Memorandum on Art and Industrial Education
in Bengal. BGP/ E, August 1870, No. 45, pp.57-58.
20 Tapati Guha-Thakurta, The Making ofa New Indian Art, p. 69 .
21 J.CJBagal, History, pp.1-5. \hidL.,p -6o .
22 Sir Alfred Croft, Review [First] ofEducation in India in 1886, with Special Reference to the Report
ofEducation Commission, 1886. Extract from the Proceedings of the Government of India in the Home
Dept, Education under date Simla 18th June 1888, Calcutta, Superintendent of Govt Printing, India,
1888, p.261. Papers relating to Maintenance ofSchools ofArt in India [1893-96], 1898, p.17.

Certificate course’ of England to train artisans, had failed in India.23

Thus, art educators, as they tried to rejuvenate Indian crafts for
European consumption, failed to notice that these very art schools were
also destroying the functional basis of traditional Indian craft
production. What was recognized, however, was “the modernizing
effect” of craft school training, which “released from the caste control”
certain crafts that had been handed down through traditional training
and had helped to keep the skill alive.24 Colonial art education, it was
admitted, disrupted the traditional pattern of artisan production, while
boosting the demand for technical jobs.

2.The exhibitions of ‘industrial arts’ in India since the ‘Great

Exhibition of 1851’

Parallel to the setting up of the art schools, the

promotion of ‘industrial arts’ in India found a new forum in displays,
collections and publications, culminating in the staging of the first
International Exhibition of Calcutta in 1883-84, in the premises of the
Indian Museum, Calcutta. The direct impetus was derived from the
‘Great Exhibition of the Industry of all Nations’ held at London in
1851, where the decorative value of Indian art had first attracted large-
scale Western attention. The Indian artifacts put on display at the
Indian court in London's first Crystal Palace exhibition, were highly
appreciated as ideal models of'industrial arts’ and ‘decorative design.’
As a repository of ‘living traditions’ of craftsmanship that expanded
England’s reservoir of decorative design, India was readily drawn into
the circuit of international exhibitions.25 This growing European
interest in the products and manufactures of the empire made the
industrial arts of India a prime target for collection and display.

23 Ibid., p.261-263. BGP/E, September 1894, pp.79-86.

^Address of the President of the Art Conference held at Lahore, Jan.l, 1894,” Papers Relating to the
Maintenance of Schools of Art in India [1893-96], 1898, pp. 17-25. Ratnabali Chattegee, From the
Karkhana to the studio, p.80.
25 Tapati Guha-Thakurta, “The Museum in the Colony: Collecting, Conserving, Classifying,”
Monuments, Objects, Histories, p.49.

In the wake of the Great Exhibition of 1851, a

pervasive trend of displays was inaugurated in India and Europe,
centering round the decorative arts of the empire. This led to the
establishment of exhibition committees in Bengal, Madras and Bombay
to draw in representative samples of ‘art manufactures’ from the
Presidencies. For example, under this scheme, the Madras Central
Committee collected art objects from the Madras School of Industrial
Arts, and from the existing art industries of each region. The local
committees collected two sets of art objects, one, for preserving in the
local museums and the other, for transmitting to the various
international exhibitions.26 After the exhibitions of Bombay, Madras
and Oudh Presidencies, a series of several local exhibitions were
organized within short intervals at Nagpur in 1865, at Jubbulpur in
1866, and at Agra in 1867, each aimed at creating “a new
consciousness about craft in the native mind.”27 These exhibitions
were especially significant for their timing, as they preceded the
pioneering investigations of the different branches of Indian
handicrafts conducted by Birdwood and Baden Powell.28

A closer look at one of the first of these Indian

exhibitions held at Nagpur in 1865 shows how the central location of
Nagpur had offered an ideal venue for securing and placing the works
of the Presidency cities of Bombay and Calcutta in immediate
juxtaposition with those of the Central Provinces. Patronized by the
principals of art schools among others, the exhibition presented the
best products of art schools and British manufacturers in India as
exemplary models of improved precision and design, for the visual
instruction of the thirty thousand villagers and tribes from the

26 Proceedings of the Madras Central Committee in Connection with the Great Exhibition of Works of
Industry and Art held at Madras in the College Hall, 17th June, 1854, p.l.
27 Report on the Jubbulpore Exhibition ofArts, Manufactures and Produce, Nagpore, December 1866,
Chief Commisionex’s Office Central Provinces, 1867, p. 15.
24 B.H Baden Powell, Handbook ofthe Manufactures and Arts of the Punjab with a Combined Glossary
and Index of Vernacular Trades and Technical Terms forming Vol 2 to the Handbook of the Economic
Products ofthe Punjab, Punjab Printing Company, Lahore, 1872, p.l.

surrounding districts.29 The response of the indigenous population to

such an exhibition, varied from suspicion that, “it was a fresh device
whereby the British government intended to replenish its coffers,”30 to
curiosity and wonderment at the novelty of continental manufactures,
such as the clocks, to the practical interest of craftsmen showed in the
traditional inlaid wood carvings of Bombay Presidency. The “furniture
from Madras were calculated to convey instruction in European
design,” and to convince the native mind of the superiority of machine-
made production over indigenous handicrafts. By providing a
continuous visibility to these objects subsequent local exhibitions
ensured “the practical benefits” of imparting scientific knowledge
among the natives. According to European perception, “the first time
they may wonder, the second time they may understand, third time they
may observe with a view to practice.”31 To consolidate the visibility of
the best exhibits the Nagpur exhibition preserved these in a local
museum collection. It also led to the establishment of Nagpur School
of Design, where skilled Indian artisans were trained in Western design
in brass, iron, wood, stone and ivory, under European supervision for
fostering a “cultivated taste” in design.32

The exhibition was seen to play a crucial role in

shaping new Indian taste, encouraging as it did the rapid spread of
European design in the domain of colonial art education. This was
borne out by the kinds of crafts produced from jails and industrial art
schools, where traditional craftsmanship was being revived under
English supervision.33 The most prized exhibits, clearly, were products
of Calcutta shops, such as the silverware of Messrs Hamilton and
Company that were of great smoothness and finish, and represented the

29 Selection of Papers Regarding the Exhibition of Products and Manufactures held at Nagpore,
Nagpore Government Press, Nagpore, 1866, pp. 8-21.
30 Ibid, p. 9
31 Ibid, p.27.
32 Ibid., pp. 26,76.
33 Ibid, pp.20-22 For example, one such centre for craft production was ‘Thugee Institute’ at
Fig. 13 Floor plan of Jubbulpur Exhibition, 1866, showing the lay out of the
‘fine arts’ court encircled by pavilions of raw material and manufactures.
From Report on the Jubhulpore Exhibition of Arts, Manufactures and Produce.

skill of Bengali artificers in imitating European designs under

European supervision.34 Even though the products of Calcutta shops
were placed at a premium, there persisted a patronizing note for the
preservation of the finest indigenous handicrafts, such as Mundlah
bellmetal, as models to be emulated. Mr Rivett Carnac, the chief
organizer of the Nagpur exhibition recognized the strength and
cheapness of the local handspun fabrics from Nagpur, Bhundara and
Chandah, and hoped that the weavers could derive instruction from the
fine texture of muslin, and design of Benaras and Ahmedabad fabrics.35
The high quality of local craft productions compelled the officers to
examine the resources of their districts more carefully for revival and
resuscitation.36 Yet notions of artistic taste continued to be associated
with European products, as was apparent from the Jubbulpore
exhibition of 1867, where a rich array of raw materials from the
Central Provinces was displayed in contrast with the finest design of
Indian and European manufacture to promote the cause of an improved
style and “moral enlightenment” of the local people.37 This fact is
reinforced by the way in which the layout of the Jubbulpore exhibition
showed pavilions of raw materials and manufactures encircling the
courts displaying the finer arts to give it a sense of greater
importance. [Fig 13]

Meanwhile, the surplus products from that Great

Exhibition of 1851 were utilized both for promoting industrial
education and for extending the influence of “science and art upon
productive industry” through a series of annual international
exhibitions of ‘Fine Arts and Industry,’ the first of which was opened
on 1st May 1871.38 A network of local committees, guided by a central

M Ibid., p.9.
35 Ibid., p.78.
36 Ibid., pp.25-26.
37 Report on the Jubbulpore Exhibition, 1866, pp.15-17. Alexander Hunter, Correspondences, p.4.
38 64 Report of H M's Commissioners for the exhibition of 1851 on the occasion of the inauguration of
a series of Annual International exhibitions, May 1871. Government of India Proceedings of the Dept
ofAgriculture, Revenue and Commerce, July, 1871. CHOC, London.

committee was organized for planning the international exhibitions.

These committees decided the nature, classification and mode of
arrangement of exhibits and the form of their acquisition, through
purchases or through loans, from private individuals or from Survey
offices and the School of Art. 39 The Bengal collection, for example,
was limited in amount as this collection was ordered during the busiest
season of administration when the officers were widely dispersed,
which hampered their work of requisition. This local network of
collection of crafts and art ware from the interiors of Bengal
culminated in the founding of the Economic Museum in Calcutta in
1874 by the Governor of Bengal, Sir George Campbell, to facilitate the
collection of artifacts for transmission to England. The museum used
the existing network as its own machinery for acquisition and expanded
it to explore the districts and subdivisions.40 Its work involved the
collection, identification and classification of the economic products of
Bengal, both raw materials and manufactures, and the ascertaining and
processing of the information about such products into practicable form
for circulation among local officers. The proposal, by Dr Forbes
Watson in 1875-76, for a more systematic survey of ‘industrial arts’ to
build a museum in London and prepare and publish a dictionary of
Commerce for India, based on the illustration of products to be housed
there, was given up, owing to the efficiency of Economic Museum in
Calcutta in gathering art objects with the help of local knowledge and
expertise. 41 This marked the assertion of the greater claims of the local
authority in documenting the ‘industrial arts’ of India.

39 The Bengal collection consisted of Pumeah bidriware, Dacca muslin and ivory work among crafts,
and Locke, Principal of Calcutta art school sent an entire collection of casts and a series of drawings of
the Bhubaneswar temples made by the students in 1868-69. Circular dated 15th October, 1870
[Proceedings of Bengal Committee in the MoftussB], Letter No 69, Fort William, 4* April 1871 from
H.S. Beadon to the Hony Secretary to the Central Committee in India for the International Exhibition
of 1871. Ibid.
40HJ.S. Cotton, Letter [No.462] to the Govt of India, Dept of Revenue, Agriculture & Commerce, the
LtGovernor’s views on Dr Forbes Watson's Scheme for an Industrial Survey of India dt 26* Jan 1875.
Procs. of the General Dept [Financial] for the month of Feb 1876, Branch Statistics, Head No-3-
Miscellaneous, Col 1-1, Procs No- 17, p.213. WBSA.
41 Ibid.
Fig 14 ° '' erview o f the Calcutta International.Exhibition o f 1883-4
From Report o f the C a lcu tta International Exhibition o f 1883-4

3. The Calcutta International Exhibition

A landmark event in the history of the collection

of ‘industrial art’ was the staging of a spectacular International
Exhibition of Indian ‘art manufactures,’ along with manufactures from
the other British colonies and countries of the world, on the premises
of the Indian Museum in Calcutta, from 4th December 1883 to 10th
March 1884.42 [Fig.14] The significance of the exhibition of 1883-84
lay not only as a point of culmination of the earlier practices of
collecting and display, but also in charting the future course of the
nucleus collection of the Indian Museum in Calcutta. This exhibition
came to stand as an exemplary show of imperial tutelage and
paternalism over the decorative crafts and art manufactures of the

The idea of an international exhibition was

proposed in 1882 by Jules Joubert, a private entrepreneur, who had
already organized a successful industrial art exhibition at New South
Wales, Australia. His object was to bring distant countries into closer
commercial union with India and help develop new branches of
industry. He was entrusted to organize the exhibition in Calcutta under
the management of the Government of Bengal. But H.H.Locke,
Principal of the Calcutta Art School, who was also in charge of
collection, exhibition and preservation of industrial art objects in the
Indian Museum, disapproved of such private enterprise, seeing it as a
hindrance to the maintenance of artistic quality of the exhibits. He
resigned, whereupon Schaumberg became the new Principal of the art
school, while Joubert organized the exhibition bearing a part of the

42 Col S.T.Trevor, “Report of the Proceedings of the Executive Committee,” Official Report of the
Calcutta InternationaI Exhibition 1883-4, Vol-1, Part-1, Bengal Secretariat Press, Calcutta, 1885, p.l
43 Ibid., p.ll.
Fig 1 5. Map of the layout of the Calcutta International Exhibition 1883-4
From Report of the Calcutta International Exhibition of 1883-4.

The Calcutta International Exhibition had been able

to secure a large consignment of art works from all over the world to
add to the specimens in Indian collection. While Jules Joubert and his
agents in England ensured the representation of foreign products, the
Bengal government worked in close cooperation with the provincial
and local governments, the museum authorities and the feudatory
chiefs, to secure adequate representation of the Indian manufactures at
the exhibition. This established the authority and importance of the art
establishment in India as the main support system for the show. The
Bengal government distributed a sum of half lakh rupees, among the
Lower Provinces, for the collection of provincial manufactures and
products through local committees and special officers. The most
precious art objects had come from the personal collection of the local
landed elite, who were unfamiliar with the competitive spirit of such
assemblages and reluctant to pay either for exhibition space or for
transportation of the exhibits, most of which therefore, had to be
purchased outright for display.

3.1 Structure and Content of the Display

The deployment of the exhibits into various

classified sections, according to their utilitarian and aesthetic
significance, and their placement in various courts according to their
geographical source [such as the Indian Empire, or Great Britain]
marked the main structure of display.[Fig. 15] The wide range of
exhibits of the Indian Empire, illustrative of the arts and industries of
India, were displayed in a huge Indian Court, in a temporary structure
on the maidan grounds.44 It was subdivided into the Calcutta Court and
the closely cramped provincial courts, including that of Bengal.45
Circumfusing the provincial courts were the exhibits of the

44 IbicLThe exhibition stretching over a ground of seven acres, occupied the site of the Indian Museum,
the adjoining Art gallery, three rows of temporary sheds south of the Museum, and a large part of the
maidan ground on the opposite side connected by an over-bridge.
45Ibid. The provinces vrae Jeypore, Rajputana, North Western Province, Oudh, Punjab, Hyderabad,
Mysore, Madras, Bombay, Central India, Burma, Assam, and Central Provinces.
Fig.16. View of South Australian Court of Calcutta International Exhibition of 1883-4

Courtesy: Canadian Centre for Architecture [CCA], Montreal.


Government Department and the Economic Court, beyond which was

the Horticulture enclave and tents for the ‘Jail and Military Products,’
to the North were the Courts for Machinery and Agricultural
Implements, and to the west were some courts of the British colonies
such as those of British Guiana, Straits Settlement and Japan,
Netherlands, Mauritius and Indo-China.

Entering at the season ticket entrance of the

exhibition located on the southern side of the Indian Museum, the
visitor found the Indian Fine Art and Jewellery Court in an adjacent
building on his right, the German court on his left and the British court
facing him.46 Moving down the southward path were the pavilions of
British colonies on either side, such as the courts of New South Wales,
South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania. [Figsl6, 17, 18] Following
those were pavilions of other countries such as Austria, Denmark,
Italy, Malta, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the
USA, exiting with an aquarium. Returning to the Indian Museum
building there were located the Archaeological and Geological
galleries followed by the British Court exhibits on the ground floor,
while those of Belgium and France were displayed on the upper floor.

The exhibition catalogue also acted as a guide for

the visitor, informing them about the institutional source and regional
identity of each exhibit, and charted out the various sections of the
exhibits according to their functional and artistic quality. These were
the spheres of “fine arts, education and application of liberal arts,
health, furniture and objects of house decoration, fabrics and apparel,
raw products and manufactures, machinery, implements and appliances
used in arts and industries including models and designs, food
products, agriculture and horticulture, ethnology, archaeology and
natural history.”47 The emphasis was on showcasing ideas of science

‘6 Ibid., pp.27-36.
47 Ibid., p.4.
Fig. 17. View of Victoria Court of Calcutta International Exhibition of 1883-4
Courtesy: CCA, Montreal.
Fig.18.View of Tasmania Court of Calcutta International Exhibition of 1883-4
Courtesy: CCA, Montreal.
Fig. 19 Gold Medals awarded at the Calcutta International Exhibition.
From Report of the Calcutta International Exhibition of 188S- -

and progress combined with the imperial grandeur, through the display
of the arts and manufactures of India.

The foreign exhibits brought in both a Western and

Oriental flavour to the exhibition giving an idea of their arts and
history as well as demonstrating the superior finish of European art
manufactures. The British colonies in Australia, for instance, displayed
art manufactures, raw materials, implements and stuffed animals for
ethnography, and photographs and paintings of natural scenery which
were presented to the Indian Museum as a permanent historical record
of the presence of the colonies at the exhibition. Their display of
material wealth was intended to demonstrate the progress achieved
under British rule, and made for the prominent place taken by the
colonies at the exhibition.48 The awards given at the exhibition for the
best exhibit in each section included gold medals followed by silver
medals and certificates of honour which was designed by Annada
Bagchi of the art school.[Figsl9,20,21]

The Calcutta and Bombay Courts offered a

spectacular display of a metropolitan collection of manufactures of
local art industry, works of the Schools of Art, and products of British
shops. The Calcutta Court designed by Lazarus and Company exhibited
the imperial grandeur of the Raj through a display of bejeweled
weapons, and European manufactures in bronze, glass and marble, as
examples of the pervasive influence of British taste.49 The pictures
represented as ‘fine art’ were mostly the popular products of the
photography and print making studios that had mushroomed in the
capital as a result of Western art education, like A.LBolton's Calcutta
Art Studio which produced lithograph prints of Hindu mythological
scenes, photographs of scenery, industrial arts and porcelain.50 In the

48 Ibid., pp.51-76. EB.Havell’s Handlist ofthe European Paintings in the Calcutta Art Gallery,
BGP/E, May 1904, Nos. B 39-42.
49 Official Report of the Calcutta International Exhibition, pp. 112-114.
50 Ibid.
Fig.20 Silver Medals awarded for the second-best exhibits at the Calcutta
International Exhibition, 1883-4.
From Report of the Calcutta International Exhibition of 1883-4.
Fig 22 View of Bombay Court of Calcutta International Exhibition of 1883-4.

Courtesy: CCA, Montreal.


Bombay Court, copies of Ajanta paintings and sculptures made by the

Bombay art school students and a professional sculptor, Valla Hira,
were displayed as ‘fine arts.’ The ‘decorative arts’ on display showed
both European style furniture manufactured by East India Art Company
and Ratnagiri School of Industry, and traditional architectural wood
carvings lent by Gaekwad of Baroda.51[Fig.22] These cosmopolitan
courts thus presented a medley of traditional arts and the new European
art manufactures as the best specimens of colonial art.

However, the Fine Arts and Jewellery Court,

showcased only the finest specimens of traditional Indian arts, such as
jewels, gold vases, Mughal miniature paintings and old Indian fabrics
like Benaras kincobs and Kashmir shawls, along with other decorative
arts of a high artistic and intrinsic merit. The Nawabs of Bengal and
Bihar, for instance, loaned a series of historical portraits and paintings
of religious sites and ceremonies, as ‘fine arts.’52 These were meant to
represent the purity of traditional forms and design and depict the
proverbial wealth of the landed nobility, many of whom had given their
precious artifacts and ornaments on loan.53 Even as the exhibition
imposed order and safety by placing valuables inside the museum
building, instances of the stealing of exhibits, like the throne of the
Burdwan Maharaja, could not be prevented, reinforcing the vision of
chaos in the colony.

The provincial section of the Indian Court exhibited

the richness and variety in ornamentation of the traditional arts from
the different provinces of India, compared to which Bengal’s art
manufactures appeared to be of somewhat inferior quality. A focus on
the Bengal pavilion showed that architectural models of tombs and
temples, Murshidabad ivory carvings and mats, bidri and bell-metal

51 Ibid, pp.119-120.
52 Ibid., pp.96-99.
53 Ibid., pp.93,32.

Fig 23. Shell carvers of Dacca with shell bracelets of Bengal.

From “Official Catalogue of the Indian Art Exhibition, Delhi, 1902-3,”
Arts and Crafts of India - A Descriptive Study, Indian Art Collection, Vol-

instruments were all seen as Tine art’ exhibits, that was later absorbed
into the permanent art collection of Indian Museum.54 The popular
local craft of the Bengal province included the traditional hand woven
silk and cotton textiles particularly the finest variety of Dacca Muslin.
that survived the unequal competition from Manchester mills.55 The
delicacy and splendour of jewellery and jewelled arms, fabricated of
the richest and rarest materials, attested to the fine variety of gold and
silver enamelling industry of Calcutta,56 while the gold and the silver
filigree work of Dacca was surpassed by a rapid adaptation to chains
and teapots of European use and designs.57 Also on show were shell
bracelets worn by Bengali women symbolizing Hindu marriage which
demonstrated the popularity of traditional makarmukho design along
with those of European patterns.58[Fig.23] Another unique genre of
Bengal crafts were the Krishnanagar clay miniatures of fruits and
figures of animals and realistic life size clay models made by Motilal
Pal and Jadunath Pal for the exhibition. Those figures, Locke observed
were infused with "life and expression” and had “pieces of real fabric”
as accessories, unlike those made by the Lucknow clay modellers.59
Other local Bengal crafts of ritualistic and domestic use such as
decorative copperware, bell metal ware, basket ware and the simpler
household brassware and pottery were all dumped unceremoniously on

53 Ibid, pp.93,32.
54 Ibid
55 G.C.M.Birdwood, The Industrial Arts ofIndia, Pt-2, p.275. The silk fabrics representing a repository
of traditional patterns were variously described as the Mazchar or ripples of silver, or Bulbulchasm
nightingale's eyes. G. Watts & P. Brown, ‘Official Catalogue of the Indian Art Exhibition, Delhi 1902-
3’, Arts and Crafts of India - A Descriptive Study, Indian Art Collection vol-17, Cosmo Publications,
New Delhi, 1988, p.384. T.N. Mukheijee, Art Manufactures of India, New Delhi, 1974, Rpt 1988,
<%id,pp.l35 &159. J.Browne, Descriptive Catalogue, pp. 186-218,.The originality of the traditional
gold ornaments displayed in an ensemble of Tabiz. Cheek. Baiu produced by the Calcutta jewelers. The
traditional gold and silver jewellery had their imitation in brass and bell metal like Hansuli. or Kharu
perpetuated among the low caste village and tribal women. Ibid, pp. 143 -147.
” J.Browne, Descriptive Catalogue, pp.206. The best examples of surviving silverware of traditional
design included a betel box with a pendant, a scent holder, a rosewater sprinkler or a pagoda pattern
58 H.H.Risley, The Tribes and Castes ofBengal, Vol.2, Calcutta, 1891, pp-221-222.
59 T.N.Mukheijee, pp.59-71. This Krishnanagar tradition had developed from the potters’ craft of
making earthen vessels to spectacular, lifelike images of deities to meet the new social needs of public
display. B.Ghosh, Traditional Arts and Crafts ofBengal:A Sociological Study, Papyrus, Calcutta, 1981,
Fig.24. The Rajputana Court at the Calcutta International Exhibition of 1883

Courtesy: CCA, Montreal.


the ground, as in a bazaar demonstrating a distinct margin between the

colonial ‘decorative arts’ and the popular ‘bazaar arts.’60 Thus the
products of Calcutta shops were seen as the best substitutes for the
region’s local traditional crafts — for in comparison to those of the
other Presidencies, Bengal crafts were always considered sparse in
terms of quality and traditional design. In contrast, the more exquisite
variety of ornate crafts from the rest of India such as, Hyderabad bidri
ware or Kathiawadi embroidery or Jaipur enamels or Burmese
woodcarvings considered to be of superior traditional design and
workmanship were placed with care in the Indian court. 61 [Figs 24-27]

The Economic Court occupying the southern half of

the Indian court displayed foodstuffs, oil and oilseeds, collection of
arms, narcotics and stimulants, dyes, tans, gums, fibres and fibrous
plants and timber. Juxtaposed to these were the life size clay figures of
tribes from Andaman and Nicobar and Garos and Mishmis along with
ethnological objects like a set of fishing appliances from Assam, or a
collection of objects of adornment and domestic use of the Garo.62 By
placing those models of the races and the crude appliances used by
them, in close proximity with the primary manufactures that were the
product of their labour, the Economic Court illustrated the close
connection between the raw products and the aboriginal tribes of the
country.63 In contrast in the Indian Court the pavilions of government
departments — meteorological, jail, telegraph, forest and the military,
— displayed handicrafts, models, diagrams and maps to show the
geographic, demographic and economic resources of India for further
exploration of the lesser known regions to reap the fruits of imperial

60 T.N. Mukheijee, Art Manufactures, pp.62, 223-224, 186, 191-192, 73. These included the
sacrificial sword, knives, fishhooks, betelnut cutters, day dolls, lac toys for votive offerings to local
and rural deities.
61 Official Report ofthe Calcutta International Exhibition of 1883-84, Vol-1, passim.
62 Ibid., pp.303-4.
63 Ibid., p.247.
Fig.25. View of Assam & JaipurCourt of Calcutta International Exhibition, 1883-4.

Courtesy:CCA, Montreal.
Fig .26 View of Madras Court of Calcutta Internation Exhibition, 1883-4.
Pniirfpev A MnTltTP.fll
V/ V/Ul IVOJ . ^5 nxv/ii v» - —‘ •
Fig.27 View of North-West Province Court of Calcutta International Exhibition, 1883-4.

Courtesy:CCA, Montreal.

progress. 64 An attractive feature of the exhibition that provided relief

to the monotony of display were Garo, Khasi and Jaintia hill tribes who
were brought to Calcutta and used as live models by clay modellers,
who worked during the exhibition. Thus, the craftsmen at work became
objects of viewing re-inscribing the idea that the whole colony was on
show as exhibits that need to be preserved.

This mixed and hybrid assemblage of objects in the

different courts show a combination of two kinds of frames of value,
one being the artistic and the other being the functional or commercial
value of the exhibited items. The luxury artifacts of intricate
craftsmanship were treasured as the best of traditional design, and
presented in sharp contrast with cruder functional objects like bullion
scales. Even in the pattern of display, the categories were
differentiated, with traditional jewellery displayed in glass cases or
Benaras kincobs hung on the walls vis-d-vis the utilitarian products
such as brass utensils which were displayed as in a common bazaar. In
case of the luxury crafts, there was a play on both the ornamental value
and the preciousness of the object. While these traditional luxury crafts
and rural ritual products were left untampered, there was a category of
less decorative functional crafts, which seemed to be the domain for
experimenting with the Western scientific principles of geometry and
drawing both by the art schools and the British shops. It is here that we
find British firms bringing into market new kind of products and
manufactures, such as clocks, sewing machines, glassware, cabinets or
trinkets. This underlined the fluidity of the very category of ‘crafts’
and ‘decorative arts’ within this collected and displayed melange, and
reaffirmed the importance of exhibitions as places where interests of
art and commerce were simultaneously at work.

64 Ibid, pp.226-246. For example, there were models and drawings of bridges, railways, collieries, and
the town of Calcutta. The Military Department exhibited articles for field survey by the Ichapore
Powder Factory, Cossipore Shell Factory, Fort William arsenal and saddlery factory. Handicrafts in
coir, cotton and wooden furniture of Western style, produced in the jails and reformatory schools, were
instances of craft teaching to help the underprivileged The survey department displayed advanced
techniques of reproducing maps and tidal diagrams.

3.2 Success and repercussions of the exhibition

The Exhibition’s proclaimed moral role “as an

educational agency” and as a lesson in improved design and practice
was partly successful, as much of the exhibition products were placed
in the museum and the art gallery for preservation.65 The wider scheme
underlying the exhibition project was the imperial design of promoting
India to a “prominent position among the nations of the earth” to which
her past history, traditions, her great natural resources and the
persevering industries of her teeming population entitled her.66 The
success of the mission was measured in terms of the one million people
who profited by witnessing the best of Indian and foreign produce. The
spectators from Calcutta far outnumbered visitors from England and
the other colonies. Though news of the exhibition “permeated through
the village community very slowly” yet the interest in the “marvels of
a new wonderland” had attracted a large number of villagers.67 Among
the visitors, there was it seems, also a large number of native ladies
who attended the exhibition, breaking the traditional barriers of female
seclusion, showing how such a visit must have become a sort of status
symbol for elite urban families.

The exhibition was an event of commercial profit,

as it served as a forum for generating specific forms of commercial
knowledge and for creating a network of trade contacts particularly
with Australia. As European investors got acquainted with the
resources of India and the requirements of an agricultural society, the
exhibition became the source for sending artifacts to the British
Colonial Exhibition at Glasgow of 1886. For the preparation of the
catalogue to the Glasgow Exhibition of 1888, T.N.Mukherjee would
draw his main body of information from the exhibits of the Calcutta
Exhibition. After the exhibition in Agra in 1867, the Calcutta

65 Hon H.J.Reynolds speech, Official Report of the Calcutta International Exhibition 1883-84,1, p.18.
66 Ibid., p. II. ’
67 Ibid., p21.
Fig.28 Example of metal engraving - brass tray from Benaras.
From Technical Art Series, 1902.

exhibition became the largest display where local governments made

substantial efforts to send collections of art manufactures. The
immediately preceding exhibition of art manufactures of North-Western
provinces at Lucknow in 1881-2 had also been a source ground for
sending art wares to Europe, Australia, and different parts of India.
Between 1867 and 1883, the growing number and better quality of local
Indian art manufactures proved that exhibitions were instrumental in
the improvement of art industries and elevated the standards of artistic
value so that these crafts came to be seen as ‘works of art.’68 Such a
trend of infusing artistic excellence culminated in the Calcutta
exhibition, which was seen as a model for emulation by other provinces
of the empire.

A more permanent memorial to the exhibition was

expected to take the shape of a National Gallery associated with the
Calcutta School of Art.69 The “novelty” of the exhibition lay in the
“magnitude of the enterprise, the variety of the display and the
splendour and value of the collections,” which had deeply impressed
the viewers. A special “honour and distinction was reserved, for
the beautiful illustrations of native art and industry,” in the display.
For example, carpets and shawls from Kashmir and Agra, the silk and
muslin of native manufacture, Cuttack silverware or Murshidabad ivory
work or Burmese woodcarving and Benaras and Jaipur
brassware,[Example Fig.28] were highlighted for the “delicacy of touch
and colouring” they employed. Such a display of traditional ornamental
crafts with their repertoire of old designs were intended to improve the
decaying quality of contemporary arts by influencing Indian artisans
and traders. As opposed to this, the native artisan were also made to
feel the impact of the marvels of mechanical appliances or the
stupendous powers of steam and electricity in the use of human needs,
as contrasted with the simplicity of his own handicraft. Through this
diffusion of knowledge the organizers hoped to benefit the artisans and

68 Ibid, p.185.

promote advancement of India’s art industries, a lesson that was

appropriated by the wider scheme of art education through the
museums and art schools. 70

The exhibition came to be soon transformed into the

central point of a mammoth knowledge-gathering project about
Bengal’s art and crafts that continued through surveys all through the
subsequent decades. W.W.Hunter's survey had been the first systematic
record of rural Bengal that had documented craft traditions and dwelled
closely on the commercial prospects in weaving.71 Further information
about the state of indigenous crafts and colonial patronage came to
light through the census reports of 1872 and 1881. The most extensive
of these surveys was H.H. Risley's survey of The Tribes and Castes of
Bengal [1891], which recorded the spatial distribution of traditional
artisans engaged in different crafts in various parts of Bengal, and
analysed their customs and beliefs which defined the limited scope of
certain crafts. For example, the decline in metal work was attributed to
the fact that the Kansabanik or brazier caste formed a subcaste of the
blacksmith, and often used the services of Chandals. rendering bell
metal impure to the high caste Hindus.72 The receding number of
woodcarvers and the rising number of furniture and cabinetmakers in
Bengal was seen to signify a diversification of skills and a greater
specialization in producing objects of Western utility, rather than a
decline in craftsmanship. The traditional carpenters, it was shown, had
joined the European firms like East India Railway workshop and
emulated European designs.73 Local crafts such as mats, baskets and
doll making, were shown to be an ancillary occupation for women, a
means of supplementing family income.

69 Ibid., pp-15,23-26.
70 Ibid.p.22-6. ________________________________
71 W.W. Hunter, The Annals of Rural Bengal, Smith Elder and Co, London, 1883.
11 H.H. Risley, The Tribes and Castes ofBengal, pp.419-420; T.N. Mukherjee, Art Manufactures,
3 H.H Risley, The Tribes and Castes ofBengal, VoI-2, pp.60-61.

G.C.M.Birdwood and T.N.Mukherjee had both

espoused the notion of a declining state of Bengal crafts because the
official surveys, driven by the imperatives of art education, were
looking for the kind of traditional designs or luxury crafts that were
appreciated in Europe but were an increasing rarity on ground. For
example, Birdwood mentioned a “considerable quantity of gold and
silver plate” with “original design and excellent workmanship” that
was being produced at Dacca. It was the adapting of Indian jewelleries
and utility wares to suit European taste that was seen as a mark of
decline.74 Around this time the Karmakars. Shankakars and weavers
entering the jewellery trade had also replaced the exclusivity of
goldsmiths.75 Birdwood also regarded the simplicity of the dolls, sold
during the Charak festival as articles of child's play, to be of a very
low quality. T.N.Mukherjee, a civil servant in charge of collecting art
manufactures for the international exhibitions who wrote the catalogue
for the Glasgow Exhibition of 1888, attributed the decline of silk
industry to the decline in the power and prosperity of oriental nations
in Asia and Africa.76 Even as he recorded the survival of traditional
decoration in architectural woodwork, he pointed to the way inlay and
stone carving in some houses at Malda and Gaya, had given way to the
popular art of terracotta. Birdwood regarded this art as degraded due to
his incomprehension of its mythological themes. T.N. Mukherjee
condemned the Kalighat paintings displayed at the exhibition and sold
for a penny by local patuas around the Kali temple in Calcutta, as a
‘rude daub.’77 Overall, notions of decline and debasement remained the
overarching trope of most of these surveys. Where Risley’s survey
differed was the way it moved beyond the verdict of decline and
corruption and pointed to the re-adaptation and reorientation of
traditional skills to suit new industries and manufactures.

74 G.C.M Birdwood, The Industrial Arts ofIndia, p.150.

75 H.Beverley, Report on the Census ofBengal 1872, Bengal Secretariat Press, Calcutta, 1872, pp.214-
216. J.A .B o'jrdi 11 onjteport on the Census ofBengal 1881, Vol-3, Bengal Secretariat Press, Calcutta,
1883, p.206.
76 T.N.Mukhajee, The Art Manufactures, pp. 331-3, 317.
77 Ibid., p.20.

What emerges from these surveys is the overall

state of flux of the ‘art industries’ and ‘art manufactures’ of Bengal.
The craftsmen with their indigenous skills were grappling to meet the
requirements and tastes of the new colonial patrons, the technical
advancements and commercial prospects of export. Alongside, due to
the lack of traditional court patronage and the disappearance of leisure
as a life style, they had to dispense with ornamentation and elegance in
the manufacture of luxury articles. For the domestic and local markets
they continued to reproduce the traditional motifs and forms,
particularly in case of those crafts that were tied to religious and ritual

It is this declining, impoverished and

transforming state of the rural art manufactures which would be
continuously highlighted in various colonial surveys, census reports,
exhibition catalogues and exhibits, to become the subject of growing
official consternation. T.H.Hendley had argued in 1883, that
commercialization had led to the degradation of Indian art-ware and
that Western tutelage and assemblage of choice specimens through
exhibitions and museums alone could check this decline and save the
artisans from the art dealers.78 Among the colonial officers, there was a
growing sense of awareness of the evils of industrialization and
commercialization, of the kind of degrading effects they had on the
crafts, and of their pervasive consequences for declining trade.
Nonetheless, they saw the project of collecting, assembling and display
of industrial arts through exhibitions as crucial checks to the decay of
local arts. Inflected though they were with commercial concerns, the
exhibitions were primarily devoted to the recovery and preserving of
standards of value and the aesthetics of design. With the collected and
preserved exhibits pouring into the ambit of museums, the latter
became a store house of design and a prime institution in the
arbitration of standards of value and taste in Indian decorative arts.

78 T.H.Hendley, Papers Relating to ...Art Schools, pp.21-25.

Fig.29. An illustration of Charak festival, Mica painting,
Company school, late 19th century A.D Courtesy: Indian Museum.

4,The Indian Museum in Calcutta

To turn now to the institution of the museum,

the greatest museum collection of crafts was formed when the exhibits
displayed at the Calcutta International Exhibition moved into the
Indian Museum. This led to the creation of a new ‘Economic and Art’
section within the museum in 1887, under the curatorship of
T.N.Mukherjee, a recognized expert on Indian artware. This section
consisted of the entire art ware court of the exhibition, and a large
collection of crafts and manufactures transferred from the old
Economic Museum of Bengal. But to appreciate the paradoxes that
attended the transfer of the exhibits to the Indian Museum, a brief
history of the Indian Museum collection is necessary here.

The origins of the Indian Museum collection may

be traced back to the Museum of Asiatic society, built in 1814 by Dr.
Nathaniel Wallich.79 Much of the early objects here comprised of
zoological or geological specimens on the one hand, and ethnological
or archaeological objects on the other, to illustrate Oriental manners
and history and show the peculiarities of art and nature of the East. 80
The objects often came from private sources, as for example,
Ramcomal Sen's collection of the instruments used in Charak
festival, [Fig.29] or a set of Nepalese arms presented by J.Browne.
When the Asiatic Society transferred its collection to the Indian
Museum in January 1877, the objects listed in the catalogue prepared
by Rajendralal Mitra were regarded as ‘curiosities’ and comprised of
antiquities and ethnological specimens. These included inscriptions on
stone or brass, ancient monuments and images of Hindu deities,
manuscripts, coins, weapons, musical instruments and industrial
manufactures, all of which were distributed between the archaeological

79 Dr.N. Wallich was a Danish Botanist who became the Superintendent of the Botanical Garden at
80 N.Annandale, sd. The Indian Museum 1814 -1914, Centenary Volume, Indian Museum, Calcutta,
1914, Rpt 2004, edited by Shyamalkanti Chakravarty, pJ2.
81 Ram Comul Sen, “A short Account of the Charak Puia Ceremonies, and a Description of the
Implements Used,” 1829, Journal of The Asiatic Society, No-24, December 1833, pp.610-613.

gallery and the ethnological gallery of the Indian Museum. The

collection also comprised raw economic products, specimens of stuffed
and preserved birds and animals, dried plants and minerals which were
displayed in the different ‘Natural History,’ ‘Geological’ and
‘Economic’ sections.82

London’s first Crystal Palace exhibition of 1851 had

aroused a growing interest in the products and manufactures of the
empire that began to soon spread into the space of the museums. The
trend culminated in 1883-84 when museum committees constituted in
Bengal, Madras and Bombay drew into the museums representative
samples of all the art manufactures of the Presidency which had been
tapped into for the Calcutta International Exhibition. Thus, the
exhibition items searched out, gathered and grouped for the exhibition
event found a permanent place in the Indian Museum. For example, the
Bengal Economic Museum’s collection of raw products and simple
manufactures such as Bengal pottery got together by the agency of
district committees from all over Bengal and Assam were transferred to
the Calcutta Exhibition by the Lt Governor.83 By 1882, additions had
been made to the nucleus collection of 906 specimens of Ethnology,
Natural History and Archaeology in the museum — placing in sharp
contrast to the static and cramped state of the economic collection that
could only be expanded with the provision for greater space.84 At
about this time the museum gave permission to the Government of
Bengal for the holding of an international exhibition, in return for the
offer of an extension of the North gallery of the museum. The red brick
gallery along Chowringhee front, which was to serve as a court for
jewellery at the exhibition, later became the permanent home of the
Bengal Government’s art collection.85 By June 1883, the Indian

82 Annual Repcrt of the Superintendent and Minutes of the Trustees of the Indian Museum for 1883-84,
Superintendent Govt Printing, Calcutta, 1884, p.l. S.Chakravarty, The Indian Museum, p.8.
83 Ibid, p.9.H.T Prinsep, ‘The Economic Museum Calcutta,’ 1880. In 1878 it occupied 4 halls to store
the jail manufactures and the products of Burma In 1879.
84 Annual Report ofthe Trustees cf the Indian Museumfor 1882-3, p. 11.
85 A.K. Bhaltacharya, “Indian Museum,” Marg, 19, Bombay, December 1965, p.21

Museum, working closely with the various provincial governments,

local committees, Calcutta School of Art along with supporting funds
from the Bengal Government, had considerably augmented its
collection.86 The collection further swelled as industrial arts and
economic products also poured in from the exhibition.

After the close of the exhibition, the collection was

in a dispersed state under the separate administrative control of the
Government of Bengal, until it was transferred to the Trustees of
Indian Museum by a Second Indian Museum Act of 1st April 1887
which created the Economic and Art section.87 Meanwhile, when the
museum was closed from 24th September for the whole year, the
objects were left at the disposal of the exhibition committee. The
zoological specimens were transferred into the Natural History section.
A permanent building was erected on the Chowringhee frontage, which
after having served the exhibition, was intended to house the valuable
series of Indian art manufactures and economic produce got together by
Sir Edward Buck and Sir George Watt for the Calcutta exhibition.88
This collection, and a part of the old Bengal Economic Museum that
was now to be reopened as a subsidiary section to the Indian Museum,
was expanded by numerous and extensive donations of industrial
objects made by foreign exhibitors to the Indian Museum.89 Until more
permanent space could be found, the economic and industrial art
collections were kept in the temporary exhibition sheds where lack of
proper protection exposed them to rapid deterioration. The ethnological
collections in the masonry buildings, forming part of the quadrangle of
the old Saint Paul’s School and subsequently the Bengal Secretariat
Press, were better protected but the display remained crowded and
incomplete. The objective was to readily provide "a good general idea

86 Annual Report ofIndian Museumfor the year 1882-3, pp.10-11

87 AiC Bhattacharya, “Indian Museum,” pJ21. Annual Report ofthe Indian Museum, Industrial section,
88 Annual Report ofthe Trustees ofIndian Museumfor 1883-4, p.10.
89 It passed to the charge of Trustees from August 1“ 1886 to April 30th 1887.Annual Report ofthe
Trustees ofIndian Museumfor1909-10, p, 13.

of the principal races and tribes inhabiting the different parts of India
and more particularly, of Bengal and Assam, their ways of living and
indigenous arts or manufacturers.” After Alexander Pedler and
T.N.Mukherjee, E.Thurston, appointed in charge of the Ethnology
Gallery rearranged it in a way to show the habits and civilization of the
people in various parts of India that formed “an excellent nucleus
collection, capable of very considerable expansion.”90

By 1888, the three collections of economic, art and

ethnology products had been brought together from diverse sources
under a common roof in the Indian Museum. The collection was
transferred to the new wing of the Museum towards Sudder Street, in
1891. Brought under one charge and subjected to the inelasticity of
Museum galleries, the separating lines between the three groups of
objects had blurred, and an overflow of what legitimately belonged to
the domain of the Economic collection had occurred in the galleries of
Art and Ethnology. In these overlapping identities, the Art Gallery, the
Ethnologic gallery and the Economic Gallery opened to the public in
September 1892, January 1st, 1893 and May 15th, 1895 respectively. 91

Thus, we see the way a strong integrated forum for

collecting and exhibiting the ‘decorative arts’ of the empire came to be
established in Bengal through the holding of the Calcutta International
Exhibition and the formation of the ‘Economic and Art section’ of the
Indian Museum with T.N.Mukherjee as the new curator. These operated
as sites of visual instruction, shaping the taste and skills of the
colonized and simultaneously negotiating the local art market for
indigenous products. Around the same time, proposals were submitted
for amalgamating the museum, with its newly acquired art ware
section, with the Calcutta School of Art and its adjoining Art Gallery.
The intention was to establish in Calcutta an integrated department of

90 Annual Report ofthe Trustees ofIndian Museumfor 1892-93, p.3.


science and art on the model of South Kensington, London, where the
museum and art school would work together in a comprehensive project
of technical and art education. The museum was to function as a close
adjunct cf the schools of art to spread British education in India — "in
storing up the best examples of Oriental design and processes in
instructing the working artisan in these and in restraining them against
the facile imitation of European designs and methods." Museums were
to stand as "a register of progress and improvement as well as a
repertoire of traditional forms and designs."92 It was in this selected
domain of the decorative arts that the museum evolved, both as a store
house of tradition and as forum of visual instruction, and came to be
entrenched within an extensive institutional network of conserving and
documenting India's art manufactures.

5. Craft teaching under the early Principals in the Calcutta Art School

Let me now turn to the parallel sphere of craft

promotion and instruction that was simultaneously at work in the
Calcutta School of Art. By 1880s the Government School of Art in
Calcutta, while developing as a ‘fine art’ centre, was also functioning
as a ‘design centre’ in response to the growing official interest in the
‘decorative arts.’ At the same time as the Calcutta International
Exhibition, the school acquired its most important profile as a centre of
design and technical education and as a forum for promoting the ‘art
industries’ of Bengal. The influence of the art authorities in England in
running the Calcutta Art School became apparent when its new
‘scientific’ curriculum came to be based on that of the Central School
of Industrial Art at South Kensington, formulated by Richard

91 Annual Report of the Trustees ofIndian Museum 1903-4, p.3. I.H.Burkill, Annual Report ofthe
Indian Museum, 1909-10, pp.17-21.
92 “Resolution of the Govtof India and Draft Scheme regarding Museums, Exhibitions and Art
Journal,” January 14,1883, Journal of Indian Art and Industry, 1, Nol, January, 1884, pp.3-4. See T.
Guha -Thakurta, “The Museum in the Colony : Conserving, Collecting, Classifying,” op.cit,p.50.
93 Partha Mitter, “Status and Patronage of Artists,” op.cit,p.285.

Redgrave, a reformist in industrial design. The curriculum called the

“National Course of Instruction for Government Schools of Art in
Britain,” was based on W.Dyce's Drawing book for the Schools of
Design, which sharply distinguished between the ‘fine’ and ‘decorative
arts.’93 As the main aim underlying the official interest in art education
was the rejuvenation of Indian crafts for European consumption,
lessons were given in the so-called ‘scientific’ principles of European
designing. Design lessons in linear geometry, freehand outline
drawing, shading and drawing from actual objects were chalked out in
the Redgrave curriculum. What appealed to the British art educationists
in India was the “native” ability to copy — a point commented on by
teachers, such as Hunter in 1866, reinforcing the view that since craft
did not require intellect, the native's inherent ability to copy should be
developed by the lessons.94

By 1862-63, the original subjects of painting,

modelling and engraving had been extended under Garrick, the head
master of the school, to include ornamental and figure drawing from
copies and casts, lithography, painting in oil, plaster casting and
photography.95 In 1864, H.H.Locke, a teacher of the Kensington School
was recommended by Redgrave as the new Principal for reorganizing
the Government School of Art in Calcutta. Deviating from the original
official policy of preserving traditional art manufactures, Locke first
reduced the applied bias of the curriculum and introduced instead
lessons in human figure drawing on the lines of Western ‘scientific
naturalism.’ His main intention here was to raise the standard of the
school as a fine art institute.96 At the same time, Locke had also taken
steps to improve Indian artisanal skills by teaching the standards of
Western scientific design. He extended and divided the curriculum into

M A. Hunter, Correspondences, p. 8; W.HJobbins, Report in The Maintenance ofSchools ofArt, pp.85-

95 J.C.Bagal, History, pp.l-5.In the first decade, M. Agyer, M.Rigaud, and T.F.Fowler taught drawing
and lithography to fifty students.
96Annual Report of DPI, Bengal 1865-6, p.531 & 1872-3, p.704. Partha Mitter, Art and Nationalism in
India, p.45.
Fig.30. Illustration in Raja Rajendralal Mitra, The Antiquities of Orissa,
Vol.l [Calcutta, 1875], Two sculpted columns - lithograph by
Annada Prasad Bagchi, an art teacher at the Calcutta School of Art.
Courtesy: V&A.

twelve stages, subdividing each course of instruction, particularly

those in drawing and design, into detailed units. Thus, for instance,
elementary design included studies in the theories of line, colour, form,
ornament and composition, while in the technical design class those
theories were applied to the ornamentation of various objects. The
surface designs were applied to textile fabrics, printing and weaving,
glass and .pottery, decorative mural painting and mosaic work, while
the relief designs were applied to carving, chasing, jewelry, metal work
and casting.97 Principal Locke also encouraged the study of traditional
Indian ornamental art and allowed students to accompany the Indian
antiquarian, Rajendralal Mitra on his tour of Orissa, to draw and make
plaster casts of the architectural d6cor of the temples, for the
illustration of his book, The Antiquities of Orissa. These casts were
then to be preserved in the Indian museum and used as models for
study of Indian ornamental design.98 [Fig.30]

But, despite this emphasis on Indian ornamental

art, the standards of artistic perfection remained Western and
academic. Locke firmly refuted the official opinion that “a Bengali can
only become a good copyist” and emphasized their capacity for original
work.99 Realigning subjects into package courses for training students
for specific occupations, he introduced a general preparatory course in
drawing that in 1878-79 for training draughtsman, architects,
lithographers, wood engravers and designers. As in Bombay, it became
the basis for the higher courses in painting and sculpture, while only
those preparing to be designers and wood engravers attended the design
classes.100 The higher courses in painting revealed an academic
naturalist bias in art — light and shade were used to produce the

97 Curriculum of the School of Industrial Art, Calcutta, BGP/E, August 1870, No. 45, p.58.
W.H.Jobbins, “Appendix to the Review of the Government School of Art, Calcutta, 1887-1894,”
Papers Relating to...Schools ofArt in India 1893-1896, pp.91-93.
98 Letter from Rajendralal Mitra to the School of Art, Calcutta, 26th March, 1870, BGP/E, March 1870,
Nos 76-77, pp.51-52.
99 Reportfor the School ofArt, Calcutta, 1865-66, D.P.I., Bengal reproduced in J.CJBagal, History, p.6.
100 W.H Jobbins, Course of Instruction for the Government School of Art, Calcutta 1894 in Papers
relating to ... Schools ofArt in India, pp. 91-94.
Fig.3 1. Ambika Behari Mukherjee, “Portrait,” [water-colour, 18781-
Example of classroom work of portrait painting and human figure
drawing. From the collection of Government College of Art, Calcutta.
Courtesy:CSSSC Archives.

illusion of natural forms, new mediums such as water colour and oil
were introduced in elementary classes, and Western style precision was
drilled into still life studies of flowers, fruit and foliage. Locke also
introduced classes in human figure drawing, that was a departure from
the official policy — seen as a part of a ‘fine art’ curriculum and
considered unsuitable for artisans, he however, considered it essential
for the training of artists.101 [Fig.31, 32]

This new orientation of lessons produced students

like Annada Prasad Bagchi, Sashi Hesh, Rohini Kanta Nag who became
successful oil and portrait painters, received commissions from the
landed aristocracy, and exhibited their works at the fine art exhibitions
in the city. Some of them like Hesh and Nag were even sent to Italy for
higher training in painting, underlining the distinctly Euro-centric
model of the ‘fine arts’ training that was on offer at the Calcutta Art
School.102 Locke’s parallel attempts at Indianization of the school led
to the induction of Indian students like Annada Prasad Bagchi and
Shyamacharan Srimani into the teaching staff. In the technical classes,
students got commissions for producing illustrations for books such as
Rajendralal Mitra's, The Antiquities of Orissa [1869-70], Fayrer's
Thanatophidia of India [1872] and Gayrer's book of 433 Anatomical
and Surgical Designs.103 Students of architecture were employed in the
decoration of St. Peter's Church, Fort William and the Staterooms of
the Government House in 1865-66. The school in this period seemed to
have acquired a commercial viability of its own and saved a lot of its
government grant. As the scope for employment increased, a larger
number of students were attracted towards the School, but it was
observed that, “those from poorer classes could not remain long enough
in the school to earn their living as professional draughtsmen". 104 As
this hampered the quality of art education, Locke raised the tuition fee

101 J.C.Bagal, History, p.6.

102 T.Guha - Thakurta, The Making of a New Indian Art, pp.71-77, 46-49.
103 Reportfor the School ofArt, Calcutta 1877-78, D.PL, Bengal, p.72 . J.C. Bagal, History, p.6.
104 Reportfor the School ofArt, Calcutta, 1869-70, DPI, Bengal, Ibid., p.7.
Fig.32 “Foliage Study” by a student of School of Art,
Calcutta [water-colour, 1880] From the collection of Government
College of Art, Calcutta. CourtesyrCSSSC Archives.

to check the onrush of student to ensure smaller inflow and greater

proficiency in work. Students from artisan groups like the kumors and
patuas, who formed the bulk of the art school in 1865, began to lose
out to the entry of middle class boys.105 The change in the student
composition brought with it a greater aspiration of Indians for entering
the charmed circle of European ‘high art,’ in response to which Locke
introduced scholarships for the advanced classes in the ‘fine arts.’106

The School’s growing claim to being a ‘fine arts’

academy was further boosted with the establishment of a ‘Fine Arts
Gallery’ as an adjunct to the art school, with its location at 164 and
165 Bowbazar Street. The Governor and Lt. Governor, Richard Temple
and Lord Northbrook founded it in April 1876, with the objective of
elevating native tastes and imparting visual instruction to the pupils.
They aimed to give “the native youth of India an idea of men and
things in Europe,” and show European methods for the representation
of India’s own natural scenery, architectural monuments, ethnical
varieties and national costumes. The gallery purchased copies of
European Old Masters and works of English painters.107 Principal
H.H.Locke, however, had also attempted all along to promote Indian
design by allowing his students to work in Rajendralal Mitra's project,
to copy and make casts of the ornamental designs from the temples of
Orissa. Mr. Craik, a merchant of Calcutta had even testified to the high
quality of textile designs for cotton goods prepared by Locke's art
school students as “superior to those available in the Indian market.”108
Thus, parallel to his promotion of the ‘fine arts’, Locke also initiated a
degree of concern in the school for traditional Indian art and crafts.

105 Report for the School ofArt, Calcutta, 1872-73, DPI, Bengal, reproduced in A.P. Bagchi, Armada
Jibanl, Calcutta, 1907, pp.l9-24_Only 6 out of 94 students were from the lower classes.
106 J.C. BagaL, History, p.7. ,
107 Minutes by the Lt Governor of Bengal, Richard Temple, Report on the Establishment of an Art
Gallery in Connection with the School of Art at Calcutta, 15* February 1876, Procs of the General
Dept [Education] for the month of February 1876, p.149. WBSA.
108 Reportfor the School ofArt, Calcutta, 1877-78, p.72.

Among the traditional crafts to be first drawn into the

school’s teaching scheme was modelling in clay that had been adapted
to European taste. Pottery was not part of the syllabus in the Calcutta
Art School.109 The Calcutta school, unlike the Schools in Madras,
Bombay and Lahore rarely entertained commissions for the supply of
designs to indigenous craftsmen. Students from all over India sent
works of traditional craftsmanship to the exhibitions of the empire. But
the Calcutta students were only required to apply their skills in
producing lifelike clay models, representing different Indian tribes,
castes, costumes and occupations or agricultural and rural scenes, with
animals, cattle and plough. Large commissions were given to
Krishnanagar clay modellers, like Jadunath Pal and Motilal Pal, to
produce realistic lifelike clay models of Indians of different castes,
tribes and occupation such as the Garos, Mishmis, Nagas of North
Eastern India, and Bhils and Gonds of Central India. Examples could
be seen in the seventeen lifelike ethnological models of Indian
aboriginal tribes, and the miniature scenes they sent for display at the
Glasgow exhibition of 1888. 110 The objective was to provide a visual
aid for British ethnological and anthropological studies on India, to
meet the needs of British administrators and satisfy the curiosity of a
European viewership.

The next phase of efforts at promoting indigenous

arts and crafts within the Calcutta art school would come under
teachers like Ghilardi and Jobbins, but as a markedly negative trend.
O.Ghilardi’s attempts to popularize fresco painting conducted on the
lines of ancient Indian art, found little response in 1886-87, and
classes in wood carving and metal repouss6, where Ghilardi designed
two artistic coffers in a so called ‘pure Hindu style,’ were also

109 The pottery work shop of Heeralal Seal at Colgong in Bihar, produced porcelain cups, plates, tiles
and insulators for European use and under a potter from England produced the finest table china,
comparable to the work of Staffordshire. Letter from A Hunter to Mr. Heeralal Seal of Colootollah, 11th
March 1867 & Letter from H.Seal to Hunter, 1 April 1867, A.Hunter, Correspondences, pp.39-40.
110 T. Guha - Thakurta, The Making ofNew Indian Art, pp.70-71.
Fig.33. W.H.Jobbins, “Antique Bust,”
[pencil, 1885-86]
Courtesy: CSSSC Archives.

Such Western examples of antique sculpture served for Jobbins as the

main model for the artistic training of Bengali students.

abandoned in 1884. As boys from middle class educated families, with

their marked preference for ‘portrait painting’, came to dominate the
art school by 1885, the status of a ‘decorative painter’ was considered
‘little better than a common mechanic.’111 The subsequent Principal
Jobbins observed in 1887, that, “there is but little indigenous artwork
in Bengal and few centres of traditional art...” He felt that “English
students, having seen pictorial art form from infancy could at a very
early age, mark the difference between the appearance and the actual
facts of an object.”112 By contrast, he lamented, “the perspective
faculties of the Bengali child were hampered by only watching
mythological pictures of the usual grotesque kind, for few well drawn
illustrations penetrated as far as his native village. If left to himself,
he would at a late age express himself diagrammatically in the crudest
manner." Thus Jobbins felt that when a Bengali child began his art
studies he had “in an artistic sense to be taught to see".113 [Fig.33] He
too spoke mainly of the native technical skill as a 'copyist' reinforcing
Hunter’s view that, since craft did not require intellect, the native’s
inherent abilities to draw correctly from nature had to be developed.114

Principal Jobbins thus, revised each course of

instruction to add and improve on only the ‘fine arts’ and technical
curriculum. Classes in oil painting, decorative painting and landscape
had already started in 1883. Annual examinations were arranged in free
hand drawing, geometry and perspective in 1887, and the first
examination in art teachership was conducted in 1889 where four
passed out of sixteen candidates. Drawing was made a compulsory part
of training in schools by 1891-92 and introduced in the entrance
examinations, which increased the demand for art teachers.115 The
bringing together of the Art Gallery, the Indian Museum and the Art

1 u Sir A, Croft, Review ofEducation in India 1886, p.257.

112 WJH. Jobbins, Papers Relating to the Maintenance ofSchools ofArt, [1893—96], p.88.
113 Ibid
114 Ibid, pp.86-89.
115 A.M.Nash, Second Quinquennial Review on the Progress ofEducation in India, 1887-8—1891-2,
Superintendent of the Government of India Printing, p.89.

School to one premise, also aimed at creating a great art centre that
would effectively shape the public taste and give impetus to fine
arts.116 Crafts practice at the Calcutta School of Art, it seems, was
mainly confined to the production and display of clay casts of tribes
for ethnological purposes.

The proposals for the partial reorganization of the

school in 1886-87 involved an extension of the facilities of technical
education ranging from the vocational skills of architectural and
mechanical draftsmanship to the traditional skills of handicrafts.117 It
advocated that equal honour and dignity be attributed to the crafts, and
drove home the need for reviving expiring art industries. Despite the
official opinion about the relative absence of a flourishing handicraft
tradition in Bengal, the new scheme roped in a few surviving art
industries within the school's curriculum - such as the art of terracotta
architectural decoration and clay modeling carried on by the
Krishnagar potters, or that of glazed clay tiles, wood carving and inlaid
work carried on by the bazaar craftsmen of Calcutta. It recommended
the employment of working craftsman in the school to hold classes in
these areas.118 Boys from traditional potter families of Ghurni in
Krishnagar like Jadunath Pal, Gopal Chandra Pal and Kalidas Pal,
received scholarship for training at the Calcutta School of Art and were
later employed to teach clay modelling and wood and copperplate
engraving.119 This clearly reflected the general official scheme of
absorbing skilled artisans from traditional crafts and retraining them to
serve the colonial market. Their training at the art school also marked
the breaking down of craft guilds and the diversification by traditional

116 Proposals, submitted by the Government ofBengalfor the Partial Reorganization of the School of
Art, The Art Gallery and the Indian Museum, BGP/E, April 1887, Nos-B.21-22, p.4. See also T.Guha -
Thakurta, The Making of a New Indian Art, p.66.
117 Ibid., pp.4-8. T.Guha-Thakurta, Ibid, p.65.
118 Ibid., pp.6-8. T.Guha-Thakurta, Ibid, p.66.
119 Prafiilla Kumar Sarkar, “Vividha Prasanga-Mritshilpi Jadunath Pal,” Bharat varsha, Chaitra, 1323
BS. Kamal Sarkar, Bharater Chitra o Chitrasfulpi, Calcutta, 1984, pp.34, 52. 168-9, discussed in
T.Guha -Thakurta, Ibid, p.70. See also T.N Mukherjee, op.cit, pp.59-67.
Fig.34. Example of architectural design with foliage motifs from a temple
ceiling panel, Gujarat. From Technical Art series,1887.

u 'fy\ .j

* rr+t

Fig.35. Examples of architectural design— Details of carved panels upon

pilasters in Birbal’s house in Fatehpur Sikri. From Technical Art series, 189

artisans into new pastures. The scheme had a vast potential but proved
to be limited in implementation.

The Survey of India took a parallel practical measure

towards such vocational and technical training through the publication
of a journal series on Technical Art. The subjects covered in this
journal ranged from the illustration of medieval Indian architectural
decoration, taking examples from various temples, mosques and
palaces to specimens of industrial arts and design, and were intended
for the use of art school students and craftsmen.120 [Figs.34,35]
Students of technical classes in art schools were also engaged in
illustration of literature books for schools. [Examplle,Fig.36] In 1891-
92, classes in the European method of engraving, 'lithography,
photography and etching led to the spread of the new technique of
chromolithography and oleography that spilled over from the school
into the indigenous bazaar picture trade.121 The concern over the
resuscitation of the traditional art industries of Bengal continued to
dog colonial art administrators and authorities. Craft-education and
revival continued to prevail as the main justification for the
maintenance of art schools in India. In 1893, when there was a debate
over the issue of renewal of state aid to art schools, the necessity of a
closer link between the art school and the art industries was once again

6. Parallel attempts at Industrial Revival unto the 1890s.

In this same period, side by side with these very

limited forays into craft teaching in the Calcutta School of Art, a
parallel means of encouraging Bengal's existing art industries was

120 Technical Art Series afIllustrations ofIndian Architectural Decorative work, Calcutta,
121 J.C. BagaL, History, p.18.
122 RJSTathan, Fourth Quinquennial Review, Progress of Education in India 1897-8-1901-2, Vol-1,
PrwlJ*U. B**

jProo Nadt* Bat- Ugt imp.

Fig.36. Example of illustration of English'textbook by art school student,

°Preo Nath Das, [Pen and Ink sketch, 1869],
From the collection of the Government School of Art, Calcutta.;

implemented through a separate body of ‘industrial schools’.123

Collin’s proposal of improving ‘industrial art’ through technical
education involved the establishment of several government aided
industrial schools at Ranchi and Bankura and private schools at
Midnapore, Murshidabad and Balasore. These schools had various
levels of effectiveness. In some, boys were systematically taught a
trade through several years of work by which they would afterwards
earn their living. Other schools, which aimed at making amateur
carpenters or smiths out of boys of the literate classes who attended the
workshop for an hour daily as a relaxation from studies, proved to be
futile for their aptitude in these crafts could not compare with those of
the traditional artisans. Colonial officers felt that these schools proved
to be futile, as these could not relieve the pressure on the demand for
the professional or clerical posts. The Industrial schools had increased
under the patronage of public-spirited local zamindars, with the object
of creating a taste for " industrial arts among young people of good
social standing.” 124 But such institutions, when located in areas of a
flourishing local craft, were foredoomed to failure, as in the case of
Mahisadal School in Midnapur, where the middle class students failed
to compete with the superior skills of the traditional artisans, which
had been honed over a much longer period.

Some of the industrial schools took the form of

artisan schools that grew out of the policy of 1854, of providing
practical instruction to the masses to find employment on their own.
They imparted training in carpentry, tin smithy, blacksmithy, brass
work in the workshop and in rare cases basketwork, along with
providing elementary education to the illiterate artisans. For example,
the Dehree School for the sons of employees of the canal workshops,

123 Alfred Croft, “Progress of education between 1881-82 and 1884-85,” Review[First] of Education in
India in 1886, p. 82.
124 E.W.Collins, Report on the existing Arts and Industries in Bengal, Bengal Secretariat Press,
Calcutta, 1890, pp.85-7.For eg.Maharani Swamamoyee offered an endowment of Rs 20,000 for
technical education in Murshidabad. BGP/E, March, 1887, Procs.NoJ326-28.

maintained by the Public Works Department, imparted lessons in

mechanics and geometry, while the Ranchi school providing training in
carpentry and smithy to the Kols, a race among whom those handicrafts
were rare. "Some artisan schools prepared candidates for work on
zamindar’s estates. But analyzing the general failure of the industrial
schools in Bengal by mid 80s, it was observed that, "to be of any real
utility, technical instruction requires, as a condition of its growth and
development, the existence of industrial centres in connection with
which corresponding schools may be opened.” Such centres did not
exist, in Bengal except in a few large towns.125

In 1890, E.W.Collins, in his survey of the local art

industries surviving in Bengal, argued that a large scale technical
improvement was futile, since native industries in Bengal were
scattered and decaying and only 8.75% of Bengalis belonged to the
artisanal classes. He considered conditions in India to be similar to
those of Ireland, which, too, was backward in primary education, where
also foreign competition swamped local industries, and the lack of
enterprise of local capitalists combined with the poverty of the people
to defeat all prospects of a revival of the industrial arts. There, too, the
aversion of educated youth towards industrial pursuits and the
conservativeness of artisan classes impeded industrial development.
Collins, however, felt that literary education in Bengal had been
overdone, and that opportunities in technical education had to be
offered instead, to enable a student to purspe an industrial career either
in a known industry for improving methods, or for the tutoring of a
new trade.126

Collins had first proposed the establishment of a

separate design school and emphasized the need for the greater
circulation of designs among the artisans of Bengal. He proposed

125E.W.CoIlim, Report, p.87.

126 Ibid.

introducing mechanization to save time, labour and expense, as in the

use of European dyes by Biprodas Pal Choudhury of Moheshgunje,
Nadia or, likewise, the use of ‘plate moulding’ in brass work instead of
simple castings. He also suggested circulating practical instruction in
the form of pamphlets of design, introducing schools for mat and
basketwork in localities where the industry had survived, improving
the art of ornamental pottery, and establishing a weaving school at
Berhampore.127 What was of greater significance in Collin’s survey
report was his observation of the fluidity and openness in the
transmission of designs in the unstructured art and craft market of
Bengal. He recorded, for example that at Kansaripara, moulds of tiger
head and capitals of some pillars were used as casts by hereditary
artisans. At Shantipur, inspired by European pictures, artisans designed
a Hindu goddess with an angel's wings. In Calcutta, the firm of Lazarus
and Company, which employed eight hundred out of seven thousand
cabinet-makers in Calcutta, recorded that it was the stealing of designs
from their workshop for the bazaar, which had led them to discourage
drawings and paper sketches. As clever workmen learnt carving in the
shop and worked out patterns and designs, there was no demand for a
trained carver.128 A highly fluid market had developed in popular arts
and crafts that, was beyond the control and regulation of colonial
institutions. For example, a local scandal between ‘Elokeshi,’ a young
married woman and the ‘Mahant,’ the priest of Tarakeswar, found a
vivid pictorial reportage in a huge corpus of Kalighat paintings and
their counterpart in Battala prints. Those motifs, it was reported, even
spilled over into the domain of crafts of daily necessities, where we
find saris, betel leaf boxes or brass bangles inscribed with Elokeshi’s
name, or fish knives with the name scored into the iron.129

129 T.N.Mukheijee, Monograph on the Brass and Copper Manufactures ofBengal, Office of the
Superintendent Govt, of India, Calcutta, 1894, pp.9-1 l.T. Sarkar, Hindu Wife Hindu Nation, p.60.

It is in the context of such a hybrid bazaar art that

there ensued a constant debate among colonial authorities over the
need for a design centre for improving craft and technical education
and for retaining the ‘purity’ of traditions, designs and decorative arts.
Tawney, Officiating Director of Public Instruction in Bengal, had
suggested that the Calcutta Art School could be a school of design for
industrial products such as furniture, pottery, brass casting and the
like.130 Collins preferred a separate school of design, since the Calcutta
school was chiefly concerned with ‘fine arts’ and the course of training
was more exacting than that required for industrial students.131 It would
be left to Ernest Binfield Havell, who came from the Madras School of
Art to become the Principal of the Calcutta School in 1896, to resolve
the ongoing dichotomy between design, the ‘decorative’ and the ‘fine’
arts and draw the school closer to the ‘art industries’ of the region.

Scope and Dilemmas of Framing a Colonial Craft Policy

This chapter has reflected both on the colonial

administrative obsession with the ‘decorative’ and ‘industrial’ arts of
the country as well as on the specifically ambivalent status of this craft
interest in the structures of museum collection and art education in late
nineteenth century Calcutta. The early Principals of the Calcutta
School of Art, Locke and Jobbins, made a departure from the greater
official tradition, in promoting ‘fine arts’ as the more coveted and
preferred means of livelihood for a handful of middle class students.
The bulk of the students were, however, imparted vocational skills,
transforming the school into a technical appendage to craft
preservation. The craft training never really took off in the absence of
a manufacturing unit and the Calcutta Art School came to thrive as a
forum mainly for the draftsmen, engravers and painters, widening the

130 A. Croft, First Quinquennial Review, 1886, pp. 272-4.

131 E.W. Collins, Report, pp.85-87.

social gulf between the ‘artists’ and ‘artisans’ in the institution. What
the colonial craft policy ended up doing in most cases, was
transforming several of the traditional skills to meet the artistic
demands of the colonizers and the Westernized middle class. This
chapter has demarcated the institutional framework within which the
‘decorative’ or ‘lesser arts’ evolved as a focus of official training and
tutelage, gradually drawing in and subsuming a broader gamut of rural
arts and crafts within its fold. Even within the schemes of the colonial
exhibitions, there was a hierarchy of crafts ranging from the luxury
crafts to the functional objects for the ordinary masses. The entire
project of display through exhibitions and museums involved a specific
agenda of structuring the ‘industrial arts’ of the empire, but the point
of departure was to focus on the commercial aspect of the artifacts
rather than those of ordinary ritual use. Caught in this paradox, rural
art forms, some of which would later come to acquire the new aesthetic
and ideological connotations of ‘folk art,’ were left untampered in the
colonial scheme of art education. Moreover, craft promotion was all
too often rooted in a Western pedagogic framework where, for
instance, clay human figures were displayed as an introduction to
ethnographic knowledge. It was this associational knowledge of the
objects that came to be valued rather than the aesthetics of
craftsmanship. In the profiling of the crafts in the art schools, this
colonial discourse implicitly underscored the middle class tussle to
establish their professional status and acquire a training thqt would
transcend an artisanal identity. Thus, even as colonial art education
presaged the emergence of professional artists, it also led to the
maturing of a new middle class perception of crafts and craftsmanship,
that would by the turn of the century be transmuted into a new
nationalist idealization of rural and folk art in Bengal.