Victoria Memorial (India)
|Victoria Memorial Hall|
|Location||Queen's Way, Kolkata, WB, India|
|Collection size||Nearly 30,000 (as on 31 March 2009)|
The Victoria Memorial, officially called Victoria Memorial Hall, is a memorial building dedicated to Victoria, which is located in Kolkata (Calcutta), India. Kolkata is the capital of West Bengal and a former capital of British India. It currently serves as a museum and a tourist attraction. It is an autonomous organisation within the Indian Ministry of Culture.
Design and construction
The memorial was designed by Sir William Emerson using Indo-Saracenic style, incorporating Mughal elements in the structure. Lord Redesdale and Sir David Prain designed the gardens. The foundation stone of the memorial was laid down in the year 1906. The monument was intended to serve as a tribute to the success of the British Empire in India.
Architect Sir William Emerson laid down the actual plan of the memorial. The design of the structure represents a fusion of British and Mughal architecture. White Makrana marbles were used in the construction of Victoria Memorial Hall and the building was inaugurated in the year 1921. The massive hall is 338 feet (103 m) by 228 feet (69 m) and rises to a height of 184 feet (56 m).
British government money was not used in its construction at all. Rather, the British Indian states, along with the individuals who wanted some favours from the British government, were the main contributors towards the cost of building the Victoria Memorial Hall.
The massive Victoria Memorial stands enclosed within 64 acres (259,000 m2) of blooming gardens. It houses a museum containing a large collection of memorabilia relating to Queen Victoria and the British presence in India as well as other exhibits. The Memorial also contains a Royal Gallery housing a number of portraits of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and paintings illustrating their lives.
After India gained independence in the year 1947, certain additions were made to the Victoria Memorial. These additions formed National Leader's Gallery, containing the portraits and relics relating to Indian independence.
On the death of Queen Victoria in January 1901, Lord Curzon, who was then Viceroy of India, placed before the public the question of setting up a fitting memorial to the Queen. He suggested that the most suitable memorial would be a "stately", spacious, monumental and grand building surrounded by an exquisite garden.This was to be a historical museum where people could see before them pictures and statues of men who played a prominent part in the history of this country and develop a pride in their past building, while the work of construction was entrusted to Messrs. Martin & Co. of Calcutta. Vincent J. Esch was the superintending architect. The princes and people of India responded generously to his appeal for funds and the total cost of construction of this monument amounting to one crore, five lakhs of rupees, was entirely derived from their voluntary subscriptions. Sir William Emerson, President of the British Institute of Architects, designed and drew up the plan of this history.
The building is 184 ft (56 m) high up to the base of the figure of Victory, which is another 16 ft (4.9 m) high. The groups of figures above the north porch represent Motherhood, Prudence and Learning. Surrounding the main dome are figures of Art, Architecture, Justice, Charity etc. The Memorial is situated on a 64 acres of land with the building covering 338 by 228 ft (103 by 69 m). The total cost of construction of this monument amounting to one crore, and five lakhs of rupees (10.5 million (US$160,000)) was entirely derived from their voluntary subscriptions. The Architect entrusted with the design was William Emerson. A pupil of William Burges, Emerson had first visited India almost forty years before. His early works in the sub- continent included the famous Crawford Market in Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1865 and the splendid but incomplete All Saints Cathedral, Allahabad (1869–1893). In these and some other early projects Emerson experimented with medieval Gothic styles, in the manner of his teachers. But the design of his other great work in Allahabad, Muir College in 1873, is more eclectic. Drawing on Venetian, Egyptian and Deccani sources, this was one of the first essays in the Indo-Saracenic Movement. Like the contemporary Senate House in Madras (now Chennai) by R. F. Chisholm, it is a colourful and extravagant building, combining forms from the Islamic architecture of various regions with a European structure. Moving from British India to the princely state of Bhavnagar in Gujrat, Emerson continued in a similar way with the Takhtsingji Hospital (1879–1993) and the Palace (1894–1995). Here at the request of his patron, he introduced forms from Hindu architecture, such as corbelled arches.
Now based in England and approaching sixty, Emerson was clearly going to need an assistant, to supervise the construction of the building on site. The man appointed for this role was Vincent J. Esch. A generation younger than Emerson, Esch had like him, gone out to India at the start of his career and in 1899 he was appointed Assistant Engineer in the Bengal Nagpur Railway, a job which gave him much practical experience in large-scale construction and costings. In the New Year of 1902, Emerson engaged him to prepare a sketch of his original design for the Victoria Memorial and anxious to avoid any involvement of the Public Works Department, urged the Viceroy to put him in charge of the plan's implementation. More cautious, perhaps, Curzon seems to have tested Esch out with a couple of minor commissions. He employed him to design a Circuit House, bombarding him with advice to adopt the "simple old Italian style". At the same time, Esch prepared designs for the temporary Exhibition Building for the Delhi Durbar of 1903. In this case, consistent with his general plans for the Durbar, Curzon required something in the Mughal style, and he was pleased to find Esch compliant.
Even so, the appointment was not immediate. Building operations on the Memorial were slow to get started, and had not properly begun by the time Curzon left India at the end of 1905. They were then subject to further delays as his successors had less enthusiasm for this inherited scheme, and lengthy tests had to be made on the foundations. Meanwhile, the real break in Esch's career came in 1907 when he won the competition to design the Bengal Club, a prestigious building on a conspicuous site on Chowringhee. At the same time, he was concluding his service with the Bengal-Nagpur Railway by designing their new head office at Garden Reach. These two projects won him a reputation for capable design and efficient management, and launched him in private practice. By the time the construction of the Memorial began in earnest, in 1910, Esch had established himself as Calcutta's leading architect. He was then formally appointed the project's Superintending Architect. Esch's major clients in Calcutta included the Allahabad Bank, the Royal Calcutta Turf Club, and Duncan Brothers. From 1914 to 1921, he was also employed by the Nizam of Hyderabad, in an extensive reconstruction of the Nizam's capital. Esch designed numerous large public buildings in Hyderabad, including the Railway Station, the High Court, the City High School, and the Osmania Hospital.
Like many others, too, he could not help comparing the Memorial with the Taj Mahal. There is a certain resemblance with, more than the details mentioned which, lends the building a pervasive Indian character. It arises, first, from the material. From the very start, even before he expressed his views on its style, Curzon insisted that the Memorial should be built of white marble, and in the event the stone was brought from the same quarries in Makrana, Rajasthan, that supplied Shah Jahan. There is also a correspondence in the forms: the great dome, clustered with four subsidiary, octagonal domed chattris, the high portals, the terrace, and the domed corner towers. There is even some correspondence in the function: like Shah Jahan, Curzon conceived the building as a memorial to an Empress and as a powerful visual statement. This linking of the Mughal and British periods is sustained by the collection of exhibits within; and it is typical of the self-presentation of the late Raj, of which Curzon's Delhi Durbar and the whole Indo-Saracenic movement are further examples. In this context, the echo of the Taj Mahal need not have been an effect deliberately sought by the architect; but it is evident that Emerson greatly admired the Mughal masterpiece – a youthful lecture on it which he delivered to the RIBA in 1870 was a sustained panegyric.
A less desired similarity with the Taj Mahal was the length of time it took to build. Following the conception and design in 1901, construction of the substructure began in 1904. The visiting Prince of Wales laid a foundation stone in 1906, but it was a further four years before work on the superstructure got under way. On 4 January 1912, the Prince – now King George V – returned to inspect progress. In the preceding month in Delhi the royal visitor had been crowned Emperor, and in his speech on that occasion, he had announced the transfer of the capital to Delhi. Curzon had not foreseen this move and he much lamented it; it left his sanctum of the Empire high and dry in a provincial city even before it was completed. The work continued, but it was not until 28 December 1921 that another Prince of Wales came formally to open it. On the same tour, the Prince visited Hyderabad, where he saw Esch's buildings all but finished; and he inspected progress on the buildings in New Delhi, which already promised to surpass the Memorial in grandeur. Curzon's project had been overtaken by events.
If the Memorial's impact was diminished by delay, it was still a splendid gesture. Emerson's design was much enhanced by the sympathetic ornaments added by others. Vincent Esch's major contribution was the redesign of the foundations on innovative principles for which he was renowned, but he also supervised the production of the allegorical sculpture groups over the entrances and designed the elegant bridge on the north side, and the gates to the gardens. The gardens themselves were laid out by Lord Redesdale and Sir David Prain; their spaciousness and restraint emphasise the building's majesty. In the central hall, scenes from the life of the Queen were painted by Frank Salisbury, and the marble statue of the young Queen is by Sir Thomas Brock. A more elderly Queen in bronze by Sir George Frampton, sits enthroned on Esch's bridge, between narrative panels by Sir Goscombe Jhon. In the paved quadrangles and elsewhere around the building, other statues were added to commemorate Hastings, Cornwallis, Clive, Wellesley, and Dalhousie. The Queen may have enjoyed their company, but whether these statues delivered an impartial history lesson, as Curzon had intended, successive generations may judge for themselves. Curzon himself seemed to consider impartiality achieved by the exhibition within, but equally approved the unambiguous message of the external ornaments. "Much might be said about the external sculptures, one of which on the north side depicts a lion's head with water flowing out of it and passing into four troughs representing the four great Indian rivers – the Ganges, the Krishna, the Indus and the Jamuna – thus symbolising the life-giving work of Britain in India."
The Royal Gallery
In the Royal Gallery there are oil paintings depicting scenes of Queen Victoria receiving the sacrament at her coronation in Westminster Abbey in June 1838; her marriage with Prince Albert (1840) in the Chapel Royal at St. James' Palace; the christening of the Prince of Wales in St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle (1842); the marriage of the Prince of Wales (Edward VII) with Princess Alexandra (1863); Queen Victoria at the first Jubilee service in Westminster Abbey in 1887 and the Second Jubilee service at St. Paul's Cathedral, June 1897. These are copies of paintings in the British Royal collection by well-known artists.
The pianoforte on which Queen Victoria received music instruction in her childhood and the writing desk and chair she constantly used for her daily correspondence at Windsor Castle occupy the centre of the room. These were presented to the Victoria Memorial by King Edward VII.
On the south wall hangs the Russian artist Vasily Vereshchagin's masterpiece depicting in oils the state entry of King Edward VII, then Prince of Wales, into Jaipur in 1876. It is reputed to be the third largest painting in the world. Also to be seen in this hall are portraits of Edward VII as Prince of Wales, painted in 1863 by Jansen, and those of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert when both were young, by Winterhalter.
36 year old Thomas Daniell and his nephew William, aged 16, sailed out from Gravesend in April 1785, destined for the East where they were to spend the next eight years. Of humble origins, they arrived in Calcutta via China early in seventeen eighty-six, looking for wealthy patrons, and to explore the sublime, the exotic and the picturesque country. Their spirit was symptomatic of the first stirring of the romantic movement of the time. Some of the earliest glimpses of the city of Calcutta – its many new paladian building, roads and river ghats, temple and churches, and forms of transport old and new- are captured in Thomas Daniell's twelve coloured aquatints, Views of Calcutta. "The Lord be praised at length, I have completed my twelve views. The fatigue I have experienced... has almost worn me out. I am advised to make a trip of up the country...", wrote Thomas in November 1788. A tour of India was a formidable undertaking in those days, but the two Daniells were undaunted. They covered the length and breadth of India in palanquins and bullock carts, on horseback, on foot and on boat, painting Oriental Scenery wherever they went.
The Daniells' magnificent views of Indian landscapes and antiquities in both oils and aquatint made an immediate impact on the British elite. Stylistically correct and conventional as they were, their magnitude and novelty charmed the romantically inclined for whom the Graeco-Roman culture was effete. Motifs were freely borrowed from Oriental Scenery to decorate wallpapers and ceramics, while the flamboyant domes and minarets of the Royal Pavilion extravaganza at Brighton were directly inspired by the Daniells' accurate depiction of Indian architecture. On the whole, their Oriental Scenery largely contributed to the British image of India as a land of romance and glory. Indeed, the Daniells have continued to feed the Raj nostalgia to this day. The Victoria Memorial has the largest collection of the works by the two Daniells.
The memorial is the largest repository in India for relics of the visual history of Calcutta. It also has a major collection of paintings, sculptures and manuscripts from the British period.
The Calcutta Gallery
The Calcutta Gallery, India's first city gallery, was visualised by Lord Curzon, at the turn of the 20th century. The matter was taken up in the mid-1970s by Prof. Saiyid Nurul Hasan, then Education Minister, Government of India. In 1986 he became the Governor of West Bengal and chairman of the board of trustees of the memorial, taking the initiative to see the Victoria Memorial emerge as the focal point of academic and tourist interest in Calcutta.
In November 1988, Prof. Hasan invited specialists to an international seminar on 'Historical Perspectives for the Calcutta Tercentenary'. Everyone there welcomed the idea of establishing a permanent Calcutta Gallery at the Victoria Memorial and a design concept was developed by Dr. Ashin Dasgupta and Dr. Barun De, of the Calcutta Gallery sub-committee. Mr. Vikas Satwalkar, Director of the National Institute of Design had helped to inspect and recommend the work, which was done under the guidance of Mr. Tridibesh Sanyal and Mr. Siddhartha Ghosh of Tangram Design Pvt. Ltd. The air conditioning was sponsored by Mr. B. M. Khaitan of Macneill & Magor. The total work was done under the supervision of Mr. Hiren Chakraborty, then secretary and curator of the memorial.
The Calcutta Gallery displays the history and development of Calcutta from Job Charnock and British rule up to 1911, when the capital moved to Delhi. The gallery also has a life size diorama of Chitpur road in the late 19th century. Chitpur was the main business centre in those day; it is currently known as the Burrabazar area.
The garden of the memorial was designed on a total area of 64 acres (0.259 km2) of which the memorial building covers 338 by 228 sq ft (31.4 by 21.2 m2). On the way to the north gate there is a bronze statue of Queen Victoria by Sir George Frampton, R.A. The Queen is shown seated on her throne, wearing the robes of the Star of India. Approaching the building from the south, visitors pass the King Edward VII memorial arch with a bronze equestrian statue of the king by Sir Bertram Mackennal surmounting it and a marble statue of Lord Curzon by F.W. Pomeroy, R.A. The garden also contains other statues of various dignitaries, like Lord Bentinck, Governor-General of India (1828–1835); Lord Ripon (Governor-General of India from 1880 to 1884); and on the eastern side the statue of Sir Rajendranath Mookerjee, pioneer industrialist of Bengal.
Twenty one gardeners maintain the garden. Four informal morning walkers associations include some of the rich and the famous of Calcutta.
Some rare books in the Library date back to the 1870s. Worth mentioning are the collection of plays by William Shakespeare, The Arabian Nights, and Omar Khayyam's Rubaiyat, all of which are exotically illustrated. Costume designers consult and refer to these books while designing for Shakespearian plays in Calcutta. There is a good collection of books on the dance form known as kathak and on thumri music, written by Nawab Wazid Ali Shah.
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