Exhibition: British Soldiers in India

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on October 26, 2010

Press release from the National Army Museum:

Indian Armies, Indian Art: Soldiers, Collectors, and Artists 1780-1880
National Army Museum, London, 19 May — 1 November 2010

"Bengal Army Troops," watercolor on European paper by a Company artist, ca. 1785 (London: National Army Museum).

An ivory chess set, watercolours of Indian soldiers, and miniature paintings presented by Maharaja Ranjit Singh will form part of the National Army Museum’s exhibition Indian Armies, Indian Art: Soldiers, Collectors, and Artists which explores the story of the soldiers serving the British in India. The exhibition looks at the period of East India Company rule in India and the early years of British colonial rule. British and Indian cultures merged and co-existed for many years, which can be seen in the multi- ethnic and multi-faith armies of the East India Company. The watercolours, intricate sculptures and miniature paintings that will be exhibited were created by local artists, usually for a European audience, and reveal the fascination many British officers had for aspects of Indian life.

A highlight of the exhibition will be a series of eight paintings commissioned by Colonel James Skinner, an officer of the Bengal Army whose father was Scottish and his mother Rajput. The paintings were commissioned by him to record his life and exploits, from images of a regimental durbar hosted by Skinner to St. James’s church in Delhi, which he built – in addition to a mosque and Hindu temple. Many of the paintings have never been exhibited before, and it will be the first time that the Museum’s collection of Skinner paintings will be displayed together. Other objects in the exhibition with powerful stories to tell include:

  • three watercolours from 1885 of the last king of the Konbaung kingdom of Burma, King Thibaw
  • two early carved wooden figures of a sepoy of the Madras Army created in 1785 by an Indian craftsman.
  • a white metal tiger taken from the palace of Tipu Sultan at Seringapatam at the fall of that city during the fourth Mysore War, 1799

Exhibition curator Pip Dodd said, “The National Army Museum has one of the largest collections relating to the armies of the East India Company and the Indian Army, and this exhibition will be a great opportunity for Museum visitors to learn more about this fascinating and beautiful collection.”

The British East India Company traded in India from 1617 and established Company rule by the eighteenth century. The Company created the Bengal, Madras and Bombay presidencies each with its own army of Indian soldiers and British officers. This rule lasted until 1858, after the Mutiny in the Bengal Army when power was transferred to the British Crown, and the armies of the presidencies were merged to form the British Indian Army. After the Indian Independence act of 1947 and the subsequent partition of India, the British Indian Army was divided between India and Pakistan and British Army units returned to the United Kingdom.

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