The collection in the form of a museum was declared open on 16 December 1951 in the Dewan Deodi palace, the residential home of late Salar Jung, and opened to the public by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the then prime minister of India. Later, the Government of India and the family members took over the Museum formally through a compromise deed and the museum was administered by the Ministry of Scientific Research and Cultural Affair, Government of India. Finally, In 1961, through an Act of Parliament the Salar Jung Museum along with its library was declared an ‘Institution of National Importance’.
The Salar Jung Museum has a collection of over 42,000 art objects, 9,000 manuscripts and 60,000 printed books that form the collection. A separate library houses the manuscripts and books. The art collection has been segregated broadly into Indian Art, Middle Eastern Art, Far Eastern Art, European Art and the Children’s Section. The exhibits on display are divided into more than 38 galleries.
The Museum also has a library of rare books and illuminated manuscripts of enormous value. There are autographed manuscripts with the seal and signatures of emperors like Akbar, Aurangzeb and of Jahanara Begum (daughter of Shah Jahan). It is apparent from the library collection that Salar Jung was a great patron of literature. The Museum offers a window to visitors to understand the art and crafts of India, and gives Indians the opportunity to view different aspects of the art of other countries.
Nawab Mir Nizam Ali Khan Siddiqi Bahadur Asaf Jah II was the Nizam of Hyderabad State in south India between AD 1762–1803. He was the fourth son of Asaf Jah I. This painting depicts, the Nizam, with his paraphernalia, on one of his hunting expeditions around the Golconda fort. He is accompanied by nobles and staff on horseback and followed by the French Infantry. The camels and elephants were used to carry troops as well as baggage and camp equipment.
A popular painter amongst the royal Indian families in the 19th century AD was Raja Ravi Varma (AD 1848–1906). Post 1857, the British set up art schools in Bombay, Calcutta and Madras to train Indians in western aesthetics and techniques. Raja Ravi Varma received his initial training in the traditional art of Thanjavoor and thereafter, in European art. He is credited with providing the critical link between the Thanjavoor school and western academic realism. This painting is typical of his style depicting a classic Indian beauty in a traditional sari and jewellery, in a romantic mood, demurely playing with a flower while listening to her lover.
LADY LIGHTING THE LAMP
The Salar Jung Museum expanded its collections by acquiring the works of modern Indian artists. The Bengal school of painting of the 19th and 20th centuries is represented here by the artist Abdur Rahman Chugtai (AD 1899–1975). Chugtai took inspiration from several indigenous traditions such as the Rajasthan and Mughal school of painting. His style lies in delicate lines. The portrayal here is of a woman in flowing robes, lighting a lamp at sundown. Using the watercolour, tempera technique, Chugtai has drenched the entire painting in the warm orange hues of the setting sun. The handling of light and shade and the use of transparent layers of colours create a pleasing, lyrical quality.
A fine collection of paintings from Bengal was added to the collection started by Salar Jung III. Abanindranath Tagore, Nandalal Bose, Chughtai, Benode Behari Mukherjee and others were striving to find a fresh contemporary expression for Indian art that had been affected by colonial influences. The result was that schools like Shantiniketan produced artists as diverse as Jamini Roy, inspired by the arts of rural India, to others like M.N. Roy (AD 1887–1954), who worked to mould audiences for Indian art. This painting ‘After Bath’ by M.N. Roy, a political activist and occasional artist, is a sensuous portrait of an Indian woman emerging from her bath in a fine, white cotton sari, clinging to her person. The interplay of water, skin, hair, and fabric is quite extraordinary.
This is an impressive painting of ‘Biblis’, a nymph, done by the French artist, W.A. Bouguereau. Bouguereau employed traditional methods of working on a painting,
first doing detailed pencil studies and oil sketches before starting the actual work on canvas. He used mythological themes, painting modern interpretations of classical
subjects, with an emphasis on the female human body. The idealised world of his paintings, and his almost photo-realistic style, brought to life goddesses, nymphs, bathers, shepherdesses, and religious paintings of the Madonna, in a way that appealed to wealthy art patrons of the time.
The ‘Veiled Rebecca’ is one of the most treasured works of art at the Salar Jung Museum. The sculpture by Giovanni Maria Benzoni was acquired by Salar Jung I when he visited Italy in 1876. Rebecca, an Old Testament biblical character, is shown as a young bride with a demure and shy expression. She is in her traditional bridal attire with a thin, transparent veil covering her face. Each layer of her clothes has been given a special individual texture, under which the contours of her body are subtly portrayed. The sculpture, made out of a single piece of cold white marble, has been masterfully carved to represent the softness of cloth, the transparency of the veil and the warm firm youthful body of the bride.
GOLDEN CASKET WITH IMAGES OF QUEEN VICTORIA AND KING ALBERT
This beautifully designed golden casket was presented to his Excellency Salar Jung by the City Corporation of London. It is studded with semi-precious stones and has
images of Queen Victoria and King Albert. The monogram of Salar Jung and the crest of the City of London, adorns the top of the casket.
The Bidri collection is the largest of its kind in the world. Salar Jung III became aware of the decline of crafts in his state during colonial rule and made great efforts to revive the arts and help the crafts community. This huqqa base said to have been used by him is testimony of his efforts to support the craft traditions of this region.
Wedgewood, Huqqa Bottom
Sir Josiah Wedgewood (AD 1730–1795) discovery, created for Britain its own style of long lasting earthenware. He experimented with various styles and shapes and decorated them with a frieze of classical figures in creamy white using a background of blue, green, and lavender. This huqqa base in blue and white depicting classical figures, trees and leaves was made especially for Salar Jung I when he visited England in 1876.
This miniature portable Quran stand in white jade, is inscribed with the name of ‘Shamsuddin Iltamish’, and dates to 607 of the Hijri era. The owner was Iltutmish, the Delhi Sultan, and the date according to the Christian calendar is AD 1209-10 It is the earliest and therefore most precious example of Islamic jade in India.
This ivory chair is believed to have been presented by King Louis XVI of France to Tipu Sultan, of Mysore. It is said that this unusual chair was Salar Jung III’s last acquisition before his death in 1949. The chairs are ornate and intricate in their craftsmanship and the artist has cleverly used ivory nails at all the joints, so that the beauty of the workmanship is not marred by metal. The chair has arms shaped like the head of a tiger and the legs that look like animal feet.
Parsvanath, the 23rd Jain Tirthankhara, was a teacher who led the way to salvation by example. This sculpture represents him standing naked, in meditation. A coiled
seven-headed cobra forms a canopy over his head to protect him from the natural elements and to crown his spiritual achievement. The symbolism of the snake protecting humans is prevalent in all Indic traditions, expressing the idea of man in harmony with nature. This sculpture is framed with a border showing the other 23 Tirthakankars of which Mahavir was the last, and is therefore placed in the centre. An inscription in Kannada is engraved on the pedestal.
This is a charming image of Shiva, Parvati his wife and their young child Kartikeya, also known as Skanda. He is described in many verses as a youthful handsome boy, as radiant as the sun and leader of Shiva’s army. An ancient tradition of metal sculpture making in India, is the lost-wax process, where a wax model of the object is made, covered with clay and left to dry. The wax is melted and a mixture of panch dhatu (five metals), is poured through a small inlet at the base of the mould. When cool, the metal image is released from the mud mould and final touches are added. In this way the hard metal object retains the liquid delicacy of the wax model as seen in the drapery and ornaments.
WATERFALL AT NIKKO
Japanese embroideries created with delicate silk-thread needlework are famous for their workmanship. In this Japanese tradition the artist makes the embroidery look like a painting by carefully choosing coloured silk threads of shaded subtle hues. This depiction of a waterfall captures in realistic detail the clear water falling
amidst the rocks and trees bathed in autumn colours.
MEPHISTOPHELES AND MARGARETTA
The most intriguing treasure in the collection is the wooden statue of ‘Mephistopheles and Margaretta’ representing evil and good. These are characters from Goethe’s famous work ‘Dr. Faust’ (1808) and tell the story of love, heroism and tragedy. From a single log of sycamore wood the sculptor has carved two distinct images on either side. The male image is clad in a hooded cloak, heeled boots and has a long gaunt face with a cynical smile, while Margaretta is shown as a shy, simple girl with a prayer book in one hand and downcast eyes, lost in love.
The most famous object in the Salar Jung family collection is this Clock. Hundreds of men, women and children assemble every hour to watch and hear this clock strike on the hour each hour. At the upper end of the enormous clock is a carved miniature scene of a metal workshop. A few seconds before the hour, tiny mechanised figures emerge through a door to strike the toy bell. While the hammer of the metalsmith strikes the hours, the movement of his assistant marks the passage of the seconds. Once done the tiny figures go back through the door. The clock is wound daily by an old museum retainer who was trained by his father before him to take care of the clocks of the Museum.
Exhibition Script, Curation, and Compilation - Ms. Uma Nair, Mr. Mallam Veerender, Ms. Soma Ghosh
Photography - Mr. Krishnamoorthi
Special thanks to - Mr. Nagender Reddy, Director Salar Jung Museum and all other staff.
References: Treasures, Salar Jung Museum.