OF A LOST EMPIRE
Treasured Nineteenth Century family album from Imperial Delhi
acquired by The British Library
(18 August 2003)
unique and important album of nineteenth-century Indian watercolours
has been acquired by the British Library. The paintings show views
of Mughal and pre-Mughal monuments in Delhi. The album has been
acquired with the generous assistance of the Heritage Lottery Fund
and the National Art Collections Fund.
120 paintings are contained in an album called Reminiscences of
Imperial Delhi, compiled by Sir Thomas Theophilus Metcalfe (1795-1853)
in 1844 for his daughters in England. He also added descriptive
text based on his own research into the history of the monuments.
The album is also deeply personal with Sir Thomas jotting down touching
words to his daughters. One entry reads, "For my dear girls
from their affectionate father. Dehlee 25th Nov 1844. The last I
shall see of my dear child Charley."
eldest daughter Emily later wrote: "It is treasured as a most
precious memento of her beloved father and of her beautiful and
happy home where her first years in India were spent 1848-1853."
The album was cherished by her descendants until 1985, and the Library
is fortunate in being able to acquire it on its reappearance in
album also includes poems penned by the last of the Mughal emperors,
Bahadur Shah (1838-58). A well known Persian verse, written in beautiful
Persian script in the Emperor's own hand, is also in the album.
In translation it reads:
A Friend is he, who proffers Friendship's hand
When care or grief our kindred feelings claim
Not he whom prosperous days alone command
And is a Friend or Brother but in name.
the many other images in the album are a spectacular processional
painting showing the Emperor and his court and Metcalfe seated on
elephants in the great procession to celebrate the Eid - the feast
celebrating the end of Ramadan.
are also painted depictions of various modes of transport in India,
and pencil drawings of various scenes by David Thompson, an Anglo-Indian
artist living in Delhi. Later members of the Metcalfe family have
also added text and a number of other items.
album is a reflection of the literary and cultural worlds of Delhi
at a time of great amity between Muslims, Hindus and British, a
world that was destroyed by the clashes between the British forces
and Indians in 1857.
conservation work the Metcalfe Album is now on display in the John
Ritblat Treasures Gallery at the British Library in London, until
1 October 2003. The album will also be digitised and the images
will be freely accessible on the Library's Collect Britain website
during 2004. Some information and images are already available on
the British Library website www.bl.uk/collections/delhibook.html.
Losty, Head of Prints, Drawings and Photographs, at the Library's
Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections, said, "The Delhi book
of Sir Thomas Metcalfe adds one of the most significant heritage
items connected with the British in India in the 19th century, to
the world renowned collections already in the Library. Besides its
historic interest and its beauty, it is an immensely personal document,
a 19th century Englishman's account of Delhi, a city he loved, and
which he passed on to his daughters in the belief that they would
do so too."
added, "It remained a treasured family heirloom for over a
century, before circumstances forced it on to the market. Thanks
to the contributions of the National Art Collection Fund and the
Heritage Lottery Fund, this beautiful album has been bought by the
Library, and will soon be accessible for all to see."
SIR THOMAS METCALFE
Thomas Theophilus Metcalfe (1795-1853) first arrived in Delhi in
1813 when his brother Charles Metcalfe was Resident to the Emperor's
court, and he lived there for 40 years without a break. Metcalfe
became the agent at Delhi in 1835 (when the post, of great ceremonial
and historic importance, had been downgraded by the Utilitarians
who governed British India from Calcutta) and ran the 'Delhi Territory',
the area around the old capital under British control since 1803.
The Emperor retained control of the royal palace (Shah Jahan's Red
Fort, built 1639-48).
Thomas (he succeeded his brother as Baronet in 1844) was an important
figure in the cultural climate of Delhi in this period, and his
work in investigating Delhi's history and antiquities can be compared
with other major figures in the 'Delhi Renaissance', a period when
Indians began themselves to investigate the events of the 18th and
19th centuries, which left them subject to British rule.
being a cultured and literate man, Metcalfe never published anything,
since he died in harness, allegedly poisoned by one of Bahadur Shah's
queens in 1853. In 1830 he began to build Metcalfe House, a great
house on the river Jumna north of Delhi, above the Red Fort. He
filled it with his collections of art treasures and books, as well
as a collection of relics of Napoleon, to whom he was devoted. Metcalfe
came from an Anglo-Indian dynasty which sent many generations to
India both before and after him. Metcalfe House was destroyed in
1857, and very little of his collection survives.
paintings are attributed to Mazhar 'Ali Khan and his studio. Mazhar
'Ali Khan was the principal topographic artist in Delhi during this
period. The album is one of the two principal works associated with
him, the other being a panoramic scroll of Delhi already in the
British Library, and probably painted for Metcalfe in 1846. In common
with other Mughal artists of the period he still worked in a style
influenced by 17th century Mughal art, with some concessions to
British taste. Little survives in India itself of the paintings
of this period at this aesthetic level, and the period still waits
serious art historical research.
Asia Pacific and Africa Collections of the British Library contain
in the Prints, Drawings and Photographs section of the old India
Office Library, the national collection of visual documentation
from the British period in India and south Asia. In particular there
are large collections of topographical drawings of Delhi and its
principal monuments done in the 19th century by Indian artists,
backed up by photographs from the late 1850s onwards. Two unique
items already in the collections are associated with Metcalfe and
the 'Delhi Renaissance'. These include a large panoramic scroll
done by Mazhar 'Ali Khan in 1846, almost certainly for Metcalfe,
and a large manuscript map of Shahjahanabad or Mughal Delhi drawn
by an Indian cartographer with Urdu inscriptions from the 1840s,
by far the most important map of Delhi to survive from this period.
of Imperial Delhi - 1842-44, album (26 by 20.5 cm), bound in dark
brown morocco, consisting of 102 folios (25 by 19 cm), with laid
down 120 water-colour paintings (8 by 13 cm) by Mazhar 'Ali Khan
and his studio, surrounded by manuscript text written by Metcalfe.
It returned to Delhi with the elder daughter Emily, then aged 17,
in 1848, and was given to her on her marriage to Edward Clive Bayley
in 1850. It is one of the few items from Metcalfe's collections
to escape the destruction of Metcalfe House in 1857. It descended
in the Bayley and Ricketts families until 1985.