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