If asked to name the London museum best endowed with the finest Indian art, one would be hard-put to choose between the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. The question is rhetorical, of course; their respective collections have a different focus and different strengths.
Both institutions provide the ideal playground to discover, explore and appreciate the arts of the Indian subcontinent. The morning at the British Museum is devoted mainly to the sacred and looks at the origins of the religious impulse and the growth of religious art. Expressed chiefly in sculpture, it begins with the sealings of the Indus Valley-Saraswati civilisation and continues through fertility cults and ritual objects to the rise of Buddhism and Jainism and the development of classical Hinduism. The magnificent Amaravati ‘marbles’ in the Asahi Shimbun Gallery provide the culmination.
The afternoon’s main theme is more secular. The visit to the Nehru Gallery in the V&A focuses first on the riches of the Mughal empire, with some of the world’s greatest Indian miniature paintings and jade carvings. After tea, the focus is on the interaction between India and Britain in the wake of the granting of the East India Company’s charter in 1600. Trade, empire and the ensuing impact of India on Britain, especially in its interiors and dress, are all discussed. Finally, the process is reversed by exploring, through painting and decorative arts, the impact of Britain on India, especially in so-called ‘Company painting’ and the superb objects made in the last surge of patronage in the 19th century.
There are two one-hour sessions at both museums, with a refreshment break between each session.
Recently retired as Senior Curator for South Asia at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, where she is now an Honorary Senior Research Fellow. Over some 30 years she has published widely on Indian textiles and paintings and has travelled frequently to India. Her books include Indian Embroidery, Indian Ikat Textiles, Chintz: Indian Textiles for the West and most recently The Fabric of India, which accompanied the major exhibition of the same name at the V&A in 2015-16.
10.15am at the British Museum.
5.30pm at the V&A.
£205. This includes lunch, morning and afternoon refreshments, one tube journey and museum donations.
Travel is by Underground which can be busy and there is some walking and standing during the day.
Maximum 14 participants.
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'Both [the lecturer and tour manager] were excellent and could not have done more to make our day enjoyable.'