A Walk Through of Exhibitions of Indian Silverware Worldwide from the 1850s to the Present

Elisabetta Marabotto of Saffronart on some of the main exhibitions of Indian silverware that have taken place around the world

Sugar Bowl and cover, Oomersi Mawji, Bhuj, ca. 1880

Tea Set, Oomersi Mawji, Bhuj, ca. 1880; Image credit: Victoria & Albert Museum, http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O140168/sugar-bowl-and-mawji-oomersi/

In conjunction with the Silver exhibit at Saffronart Delhi, the Saffronart blog is publishing articles on the history of silver and its international popularity. Similar pieces can be viewed on our website.

London: Indian silverware is renowned worldwide for its beauty, design and quality. The first time Indian silverware and other artifacts from the subcontinent were exhibited in Europe was in 1851, at the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, London, in the “Indian court” space. The great success of this exhibition and the popularity of Indian silver led Liberty and Co. of Regent Street and Proctor and Co. of Oxford Street to create their own workshops in India. The response to the exhibition also prompted the construction of a space where these objects could be displayed permanently. Thus, the Museum of Manufactures was built in Marlborough House, London, especially designed to educate people in art and design. Later it became known as the South Kensington Museum, and today, is named the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Some years later, in 1883, the Calcutta International Exhibition was held in the Indian Museum. It was the first exhibition of this genre, dedicated to arts and crafts from India. The show was opened by H.E. Lord Ripon, the Viceroy of India, in the presence of Queen Victoria and the Duke and Duchess of Connaught. More information about this exhibition can be found here.

In 1903, on the occasion of the Grand Durbar celebrating the coronation of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra as Emperor and Empress of India, the assembly waiting for the royals to arrive in Delhi organized an incredible exhibition of jewelry and every Indian prince present at the ceremony was adorned with magnificent gems.

Claret jug made by Oomersee Mawjee, Kutch, c. 1890

Claret jug made by Oomersee Mawjee, Kutch, c. 1890; Image Credit: http://www.themagazine

Much more recently, in July 2007, Wynard Wilkinson, a British specialist in antique Indian silverware, organized an exhibition displaying more than 400 items. These were made during the three ruling regimes in India (Mughal, neoclassical Georgian and British Raj) and reflected the taste of their patrons.

According to Wilkinson “India’s long and tumultuous history is arguably nowhere better reflected than in silver objects produced to the order of those who once ruled the vast subcontinent. My July exhibition began with items designed to appeal to the sybaritic tastes of the Mughal emperors who controlled India from the sixteenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries. The next group of objects reflected the neoclassical ‘Georgian’ restraint that was favored by the first generations of European merchants and soldiers who arrived under the auspices of the East India Company. The last group consisted of objects produced during the British Raj, the style of which is truly indigenous.”

Wilkinson in this exhibition mainly focused on functional objects and tableware. Look here for more information.

The following year, Vidya Dehejia curated an exhibition at Columbia University’s Miriam & Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery titled “Delight in Design, Indian Silver from the Raj”, focusing only on Indian silverware produced during the Raj period (1858-1947).

Detail of Water jug featuring the Descent of the Ganges, Calcutta, ca 1885

Detail of Water jug featuring the Descent of the Ganges, Calcutta, ca 1885; Image Credit: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/wallach/exhibitions/

Raj silverware is characterized by the adoption of European shapes and purposes, but retains innate Indian patterns and decorations. In fact, Indian silversmiths had to satisfy the increasing demand for silver objects from European customers. Some of the most common objects produced during the period were tea sets, goblets, beer mugs, claret jugs and so on. Interestingly, every part of the country was characterized by a different decorative style that mirrored local tastes and traditions. For example, silverware from Kutch would often be quite heavily decorated. Some of the recurrent designs were snake-shaped handles and elephant trunk-shaped spouts. On the other hand figures of Gods and Swamis are often present as decorative elements in silver objects from Madras. This is why the silver from this region is often referred to as Swami.  Lastly Calcutta’s silverware usually bears rural scenes decorations.

The most refined works of silver were made during the Raj Period, and some of the most popular firms were P. Orr and Sons of Madras and Oomersee Mawjee of Kutch. More information about this exhibition and the different local styles of the Raj period can be found here.

Finally, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is currently hosting (until February 2013) the exhibition, ‘Indian Silver for the Raj’. This show presents the VMFA’s latest Indian silver acquisitions. The exhibition is divided in two parts.

Five Piece Tea Service, P. Orr & Sons, Madras, 1876

Five Piece Tea Service, P. Orr & Sons, Madras, 1876, Image Credits: http://www.vmfa.state.va.us/indian-silver/

The first part focuses on the fusion of Indian and British culture through silver making. Thus, as a material example of this blending, calling card-cases, rosewater sprinklers and tea sets are exhibited. The second part of the exhibition focuses on the different regional styles of Raj silver.

This showcase aims to highlight the similarities yet originality within the Raj period silver, perhaps the most successful era of silver making.

Tours of the exhibition will be organized twice in October. More information on the exhibition and associated events

Apart from temporary exhibition, pieces of Indian silver can also be appreciated in the permanent collections of several museums around the globe. Some of the best works can be viewed at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the Musee Guimet in Paris, and at Harvard University’s Arthur M. Sackler Museum in Boston. If you happen to be in any of these locations I would highly recommend a visit to these institutions to view and enjoy these extraordinary objects.

Indian Period Silver

Sneha Sikand of Saffronart offers a brief history of Period Silver in India

New Delhi: Crafting silver in India dates back several centuries. But what is seen as the golden era of silverware is the colonial period. The time of British occupation in India which lasted from the mid nineteenth century to the early twentieth century was when silversmiths in India produced some of the most exquisite and luxurious silver tableware.

A Tea Kettle with Burner
House of Dighapatia, Bangladesh
20th century
Image credit: http://www.saffronart.com

From tea services, bowls and cutlery sets to card cases and picture frames, silver items came to be associated with prestige and nobility. Initially made by silversmiths as gifting items, they were soon viewed as basic necessities in any well established home.

Historically, silver has been produced in various parts of India and some of the manufacturing houses remain popular to date. The silversmiths or sonars would receive ingots and recycled silver to create items of use by remolding and then a patterner would draw a design over the object. These processes were repeated time and again to get the right finish.

The prominent establishments were divided by region. Kashmir, Madras, Bangalore, Kutch, Lucknow, Bombay and Calcutta became the centers for handcrafted silver – blending traditional designs and patterns with western forms. Madras silver came to be known as Swami Silver because of its frequent depiction of gods and religious festivities. One of the most prominent firms in the area was P. Orr and Sons, a Scottish firm which received several commissions for gifts presented to British crown.

A ‘Samovar’ or Hot Water Fountain
20th century
Image credit: http://www.saffronart.com

The silver from Kutch in Gujarat was known for having heavily embossed patterns that enveloped the entire surface of the object. Almost always using some kind of dense foliage pattern, Kutch silverware was considered the most popular in the late nineteenth century and appealed a great deal to westerners. World renowned silver craftsman Oomersee Mawjee’s designs were among the favourite of the colonial period.

The patterns in Madras and Kutch silverware could appear quite abstract and would often  have more than one standard pattern running within an object. The tea pot could be depicting a foliate patten while the handle would be in the shape of a serpent, or the spout in the form of an animal’s head.

While many would argue regarding the difference and range in the purity of silver from region to region, the labour and aesthetic value of period silver has always been given more importance.

Select Period Silver pieces are currently on view at Saffronart, Delhi till 5 October, 2012

View the collection here

Period and Contemporary Silverware Exhibition at Saffronart Delhi

Manjari Sihare shares details of the Contemporary & Period Silverware exhibition, currently on view at Saffronart’s gallery in Delhi 

New Delhi: This week, Saffronart is hosting an exhibition of contemporary and classic silverware in their Delhi gallery at the Oberoi Hotel. On view and sale are about thirty collectible pieces, from intricately engraved period vases and objets d’art, to minimalist one-of-a-kind contemporary pieces, hallmarked and certified.

Silver lies at the heart of several Indian traditions. The use of this precious metal extends back possibly 5700 years, with the earliest discovered silver ornaments dating to at least 3000 BCE in the Saraswati civilization of western India. The prevalence and use of silver has not waned with the passage of time. As per the Indian social order, silver is a symbol of prosperity and good fortune and finds its way into every auspicious practice and occasion. The tradition of gifting silver is thus deeply ingrained in our culture. The current exhibition highlights the important role silver has played in India as well as the ways in which talented designers in the country continue to interpret this heritage.

Through the week we will be featuring posts on this blog that provide basic information (sometimes detailed) about the history of silver object making in India from the British Raj onwards, contemporary trends in silver craft, information from the point of view of investment, and details about the handling and care of silver. Our aim is to provide new insights into the history of silverware, as well as present both period and contemporary silverware as highly desirable collectibles. The posts will be compiled from a variety of authoritative sources including our extensive library of books on antiques and collecting, other informational resources on the web and insights from our editorial and client servicing specialists.

The pieces are on view at Saffronart, Delhi, until October 5, 2012. Select pieces are also available to view on Saffronart’s website.

Dates: September 24 – October 5, 2012

Venue: Saffronart, The Oberoi Hotel, Dr. Zakir Hussain Marg, New Delhi 110003, India

Timings: Monday to Saturday 11:00 am to 7:00 pm, and Sunday 11:00 am to 4:00pm


Mithu Sen at Mediations Biennale 2012

Sneha Sikand of Saffronart on Mithu Sen’s latest project in Poland

Mithu Sen, I chew, I bite
Installation 2011
Image credit: http://www.mediations.pl

Poznań: The third edition of the Mediations Biennale, titled THE UNKNOWN – NIEPOJMOWALNE is currently underway in Poznań, Poland. Starting out as an art festival in 1999, the biennale has evolved from being just an art event to a full blown organisational enterprise.

The format of the event moves away from  merely presenting the works of art. It is divided into two stages. In the preparatory stage, research is carried out on the theme chosen. In the thinking stage, the collective works of the artists, researchers, and curators along with discussions taking place during the event are compiled to formulate new ideas and perspectives corresponding with the chosen theme.

Curated by Fumio Nanjo, director of the Mori Art Museum, Mithu Sen translates the theme of the biennale in her work by reflecting on dental prosthesis. The act of biting, and of chattering teeth shows how our bodies react to pain, fear and horror. Just like the theme suggests, the unknown is as exciting and intense as something which we already comprehend. Sen suggests that our teeth and mouth act as agents of exploration into the unknown – “It is like a gateway to the inner self”. In a recent interview, Mithu Sen elaborates on her artistic representations of body parts to metaphorically convey basic human emotion.

Talking about the event, Tomasz Wendland, director of the 2012 Mediations Biennale says that reality today is all about closing the gaps. “It does not matter that we do not understand what we see, since it is the context that matters”. He feels that individuals are curious about that which is inaccessible and in effect ‘unknown’.

The biennale is scheduled to run till October 14, 2012.

More about the Mediations Biennale 2012

Mumbai’s Contemporary Art to be featured in the 9th Shanghai Biennale.

Medha Kapur of Saffronart shares a note on the Inter-City Pavilions project at the 9th Shanghai Biennale

Shanghai Art Museum

Shanghai Art Museum

Shanghai: The Shanghai Biennale (October 2 –December 31, 2012) not only showcases contemporary art productions, but also creates forums where artists can meet, challenge their own works and expand their experiences. It offers the opportunity for a truly international exchange of ideas; while bringing together artists, curators, writers, theorists and art supporters from around the world. The Shanghai Biennale highlights the increasingly important role of artistic production in the Asia-Pacific region.

For the first time the exhibition will move beyond exploring national art practices and will begin exploring city art practices with  its Inter-City Pavilions. These focus on the interesting connections and energy exchanges between people and cultures which, in today’s globalized world, are more likely to be identified within local communities rather than in national contexts. India will be represented by Mumbai, one of the nearly 30 cities featured in the inaugural show at the Shanghai Contemporary Art Museum, housed in a building that used to be a thermal power-plant. Some of the cities invited are Istanbul, Tehran, Hong Kong, Taipei, London, Barcelona, Ulaanbaatar and Berlin.

The former Nanshi Power Plant, future venue of the Shanghai Biennale

The former Nanshi Power Plant, venue of the Shanghai Biennale

Venue of the City pavillions

Venue of the City pavillions

Curated by Diana Campbell and Susan Hapgood, the Mumbai pavilion will provide a dynamic evocation of the city’s artistic environment. The ten artists whose diverse art works will be presented in the pavilion include Gyan Panchal, Hemali Bhuta, Kausik Mukhopadhay, Manish Nai, Mansi Bhatt, Neha Choksi, Pablo Bartholomew, Sharmila Samant and Shilpa Gupta.

The pavilion will focus on several themes that ten artists have addressed in their work, and that make the city absolutely unique: its improvisational nature, its intricate collective networks, and its pervasive and re-usage and recycling practices. The works to be exhibited will not suggest any particular aesthetic or stylistic methodology. Rather, the artistic processes and images and meanings will gradually expand upon and suggest the exhibition themes in themselves.

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