Collection Highlights from the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum

Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum

As Mumbai’s oldest museum, the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum's permanent collection showcases the cultural heritage and history of the city.

As Mumbai’s oldest museum, the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum showcases the city’s cultural heritage and history through a rare collection of 19th century fine and decorative arts that highlight early modern art practices and craftsmanship in the erstwhile Bombay Presidency and beyond. The permanent collection includes miniature clay models, dioramas, maps, lithographs, photographs, and rare books that document the life of the people of Mumbai and the history of the city from the late 18th to early 20th centuries. Since the establishment of the Museum Trust in 2003, the Museum has augmented its permanent collection with new acquisitions, to create a comprehensive representation of the city’s art and culture from the 19th century onwards, including contemporary art. The curatorial strategy and display highlight the primary themes within the collection.
Mumbai (Bombay) History
In the early 1900s the curators envisioned the Museum to be a centre for the collection and exhibition of pictorial records and antiquities of the history of the city and the neighbourhood in which the Museum was situated. A collection of facsimiles of maps, plans, prints and photographs of the islands of Bombay (now Mumbai) were procured. This collection was opened to the public in 1918. Dated between 1600 and 1900, the collection records the architectural history of the city and its evolution from seven islands to a vibrant urban centre or the Urbs Prima in Indis (first city in India) by the mid 19th century. It also chronicles the evolution in geography that resulted from invasions, economic growth and urban planning. On display are maps depicting the development of Bombay from the late 17th – early 20th centuries. The collection includes models of the earliest boats in the city’s harbour, the first textile mills in Worli and a diorama of Bombay Castle, the administrative headquarters at the heart of the British Fort.The Museum’s collection of glass negatives is a visual record of 19th century Mumbai. The collection has more than 1500 glass negatives and documents various aspects of the city including architecture, prominent citizens and old city views.

This 3 dimensional map of the original seven islands of Mumbai is titled Heptanesia, Greek for seven islands, which is the earliest documented name for the city recorded in the writings of Ptolemy.

The Kamalnayan Bajaj Mumbai Gallery showcases Mumbai’s origins as a group of islands separated by swamps, marshland and mangroves, covered with coconut groves, and its development into a vibrant and elegant 19th century city.

This model of a dredger named ‘Kuphus’ was presented to the Museum by the Bombay Port Trust Authorities in 1914. Dredgers were large mechanisms used to gather sediments from sea bed which was later used for miscellaneous activities. In Mumbai (Bombay), dredgers were mainly employed for reclamation works and thus extensive stretches of land were made available for transportation, housing and businesses.

This 18th century map was prepared for the Peshwa Madhavrao, the Maratha ruler of the Deccan and a rival of the British in erstwhile Bombay.

The map is particularly interesting for its unique perspective. It was not meant to be an accurate survey of the region but rather a diagrammatic representation with symbols highlighting important information. This depiction of Mumbai (Bombay) and its harbour was probably made as part of a Maratha strategy to take control of the island.

John Henry Grose was a writer and a covenanted servant of the East India Company. He came to Mumbai (Bombay) in the year 1750 in one of the East Indiamen and published his account “Voyages to the East Indies” in two parts in 1772. His plan is invaluable as every street within the walls of the Fort of Bombay is laid down and is accompanied by a scale of feet. 

This map titled ‘The Island of Bombay’ shows the land mass added to the islands through various reclamation projects carried out by the government between the years 1816 -1890.

The survey was commenced under Capt. Thomas Dickinson, one of the East India Company’s Engineers in 1812.

Pride of place has been given to the people of the city in the Kamalnayan Bajaj Mumbai Gallery. The Headwear case depicts the distinct styles of traditional headgear worn by the various communities in Mumbai, showcasing the city’s diversity and cosmopolitanism.

The establishment of East India Company’s headquarters in Mumbai (Bombay) provided the catalyst for migration to the region from 16th century onwards. The East India Company invited communities from within India and outside to settle in Mumbai (Bombay) and help develop trade and business.
They were offered economic opportunity and social and religious freedoms as a result of which many communities migrated to the city and contributed to its development in their unique ways.

The Kolis, a community of fishermen, are the original inhabitants of Mumbai. This model shows a Koli woman drying fish, likely the Bombay Duck, a common sight near the seashores in Mumbai even today.

The Museum’s collection of clay models and dioramas document the people, lifestyles, occupations and cultures of Mumbai from the late 19th to the early 20th century. These models, made at the Museum in the early 1900’s, represent different occupations of that period. They also provide the visitors with an insight into the economics of the city of Mumbai. Many of these occupations are still practiced in the city even today.

A relief map of Worli estates development shows the topography of Worli area before the establishment of mills in the area.

A relief map of Worli estates after development shows the topography of the Worli area after the establishment of the mills. Clearly visible are the mills and residential quarters of the workers. The dense residential buildings reflect the influx of migrants who came to Mumbai to work in the mills of Mumbai (Bombay).

This statue of Mumba Devi was commissioned by the Museum in 2008. Mumba Devi is venerated as the the patron goddess of Mumbai and of the Kolis, the city's original inhabitants. In fact, the name of the city is derived from Mumba Aai or mother goddess, as she is known.

The 6th century Elephanta elephant, one of the city’s most important artefacts, which had been damaged by the British in an attempt to take it to London, stood forlorn and barely visible behind unruly vegetation. This elephant presented the greatest challenge as it could not be moved. It was given a special plinth with railings by scooping out part of the garden to enable the many visitors to the Museum and the zoo to view it clearly.

Edward Hildebrandt (1818 - 1869) was a German painter of repute who travelled on a world tour from 1860-1862, which included visits to the Middle East, India, Asia and the U.S. He worked mainly in watercolours.

A folio of his paintings from his world voyage was published as chromolithographs in 1864 in Berlin. The original watercolours from the voyage were exhibited in London in 1866 and at an exhibition at the Crystal Palace in 1868.

This lithograph shows an elite residential quarter of Mumbai (Bombay), as suggested by the broad street, wooden verandahs and elaborate facades of the houses.

Trade & Cultural Exchange
Trade was always the dominant impulse in colonial India. At the height of Industrial Revolution in 1851, Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria, conceived of international exhibitions to display industrial products from British colonies, a trend that soon spread to other European nations. Trade in Indian fine and decorative arts was stimulated by these international exhibitions and fairs of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which along with the Arts and Crafts movement in England, created international interest in Indian design and craftsmanship. Indian artisans were asked to produce objects of art to be sent all over the world for these international exhibitions.In response to a growing market, experiments to modify Indian fine and decorative art products to suit European and anglicised Indian elite tastes were conducted by workshops and technical schools established by the British to train Indian artisans and craftsmen. From these schools and workshops emerged products for trade that merged Indian design with European form. Copies of the industrial art products sent to the Paris Universal Exhibition in 1855 forms the nucleus of the collection in the Museum’s Industrial Arts Gallery.

Miniature paintings executed on thin, translucent sheets of ivory were coveted by both the European as well as the Indian elite. Popular subjects were portraits of Mughal royalty and historic sites, such as this image of Diwan-i-Khas, Delhi Fort. In the Mughal forts, Diwan-i-Khas functioned as a King's private audience chamber.

The city of Bombay prospered due to its booming cotton trade in the mid-19th century. This medal was awarded to the Bombay Presidency for contributing samples of raw cotton at the Universal Exhibition of 1867, held in Paris. This exhibition was held under the reign of Emperor Napoleon III, whose portrait is struck on the obverse of the medal.

The words 'Hors Concours' mean 'Outstanding'.

The reverse face of the medal shows a two-winged pair of putti holding a cartouche above an imperial eagle, inscribed with the words ‘Gouvernement de Bombay’.

The ivory image of Radha Krishna is a typical Travancore depiction of a Hindu deity adorned in traditional costume and ornament, yet is European in form, posture and expression. The British attempt to encourage naturalism, or
the realistic portrayal of nature, is evident in the dancing figure of Radha and Krishna. Note the balletic pose and drapery, the cooing doves and foliage that are reminiscent of European style.

The Official Catalogue of the Delhi Exhibition published in 1903 by George Watt describes ivory carving from Travancore as having attained the “foremost position among the ivories in India”. Many popular
bazaars and markets in Bombay stocked and sold ivory carvings from Travancore and Southern India, well into the 1950s and 1960s, when curators from the Museum purchased ivory carvings from Swadeshi Market and Khadi Village Industries Emporium in Bombay.

This shield from Multan, with silver and gold wire inlay in a complex and intricate pattern, exemplifies the Museum's Koftagiri (Damascene) collection.

The art of damascening originated in the ornamentation of weaponry in ancient Damascus and travelled to India via Iran and Afghanistan.

In the art of Bidri, pure silver in inlaid against a black background made of zinc and copper to create delicate decorative patterns on items of domestic use for wealthy patrons. The term 'Bidri' is derived from Bidar (Karnataka), the earliest centre of this art form in India.

In the art of Bidri, pure silver is inlaid against a black background made of zinc and copper to create delicate decorative patterns on items of domestic use for wealthy patrons.

The intricate carving on this soapstone dish plate from Agra, blends Islamic geometric design with European foliage patterns. The softness of soapstone permits delicate treatment in design and workmanship.

The silver fruit bowl from Chennai (Madras) is repoussed in the Swami style with images of various mythological figures in canopied niches.

This elaborately carved Lamp stand made of Bison horn from the Ratnagiri School of Art is a combination of European form and Indian decorative embellishment like the cobra.

Ratnagiri and Sawantwadi in Maharashtra were important centres for the production of ornamental horn objects.

Kutch in Gujarat was famous for its graceful and intricate and floral designs in tight swirls executed in shallow repousse, as seen on this kettle.

The spout of the kettle, in shape of an elephant’s trunk, and the small silver elephant on the lid also indicate the popularity of such Indian motifs in the West.

Decorated in a Chinar leaf pattern with foliage and birds in gold on a deep red background, this bowl is one of the highlights of the Museum’s exquisite papier-mache collection from Kashmir. The Chinar leaf is a five-pointed leaf from a tree of the same name that is ubiquitous in the Kashmiri landscape and is a popular ornamental motifs in traditional crafts of Kashmir. Chinar trees were also planted in the celebrated Mughal gardens of Kashmir.

Papier-mache is the technique of creating objects using paper pieces or paper pulp moulded in the desired shape and bound with an adhesive. This delicate decorative art was introduced to Kashmir from Samarkand in Central Asia, in the 15th century A.D. In the Kashmir style of papier-mache, the paper is never completely beaten into pulp; it is softened with water and then pasted in a mould layer by layer to achieve the desired thickness. Kashmiri papier mache is characteristic of the art of naqashi or the painting of various floral, geometrical and figurative designs and patterns on the various items, covered with lacquer.

Ganjifa or Indian playing cards had figurative designs painted onto lacquered surfaces. Popular themes included the Dashavataras, the Ramayana, Mughal courtiers and later European suites were included. Sawantwadi (Maharashtra), Bishnupur (West Bengal) and Nirmal (Andhra Pradesh) were popular centres of this craft.

Images of Hindu deities, such as this example from the Sir J.J. School of Art, were popular themes represented on sandalwood objects. The preoccupation with Renaissance language in Indian art at this time is exemplified in the contrapposto figure of Parvati, the fall of her garment and her facial features.

South India and Maharashtra were important centres for sandalwood carving in India.

Dattatreya is an avatar of the Hindu trinity of Brahma Vishnu and Shiva. This brass image of Dattatreya illustrates the naturalistic form which developed in response to the European influence on Indian art.

This lampstand is an example of the decorative articles that were exported to Europe through the Asian subcontinent as land and sea trade expanded in the late 19th century. This dragon from Nepal has wings, an expressive ferocious face, a highly decorated tail and a candle stand, which it holds on its right foreleg.

The term 'Bidri' is derived from Bidar (Karnataka), the earliest centre of this art tradition in India. It was introduced from Persia in the 14th century where it was used to embellish weapons.

This foot warmer depicting the naturalized floral decoration typical of Bidri-ware from Bidar is the pride of the Museum’s Bidri collection. Hot water would be poured into the base and the steam rising through the perforated lid would keep warm the feet of wealthy patrons.

Forbes Watson's Collection of the Textiles Manufactures in India, published in 18 volumes in 1866, is a collection of 700 samples of different patterns, material and textures of Indian fabrics shown at the 1855 international exhibition in Paris. This publication was created with the objective of inspiring students and textile manufacturers in Britain and to make them aware of the opportunities of the vast Indian market. Thirteen sets of this publication were distributed in Britain, mostly to textile manufacturing districts and seven went to India. The Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum possesses one such set in India.  

The Museum possesses one of the finest collections of 19th century lacware from Sind. The creation of coloured lac for application on wooden articles is a long and laborious process. Complicated techniques were used to produce a variety of designs such as Abri (Cloud work), Atisi (Fire work) and Nakshi (Pattern work).

The androgynous form of Ardhanareshwar is symbolic of the unity of the male and female aspects of the divine. This idol, cast in bronze, depicts the skill of Indian sculptors. Bronze is an alloy of copper, tin and zinc and is preferred by sculptors due to its durability.

Early Modern Period
The Museum's extraordinary collection of models and dioramas served to document the life and culture of 19th century Mumbai and is an important extension of the colonial project to capture in minute detail the people of India. Produced under the tutelage of the Museum's curators Ernst Fern and C. L. Burns, both of whom were also principals of the Sir J. J. School of Art, the collection also forms a unique art historical reference to the larger genre of Company School painting. ‘Company painting’ refers to the hybrid style that emerged during the early 18th to the 19th centuries. Used to document different aspects of Indian life such as festivals, occupations, communities, local rulers and monuments, the style was naturalistic and displays European influence on Indian art. From the mid-19th century, schools of Art and technical training established by the British in India, imparted western art education to Indian artists and craftsmen. Closely associated with the earliest museums, these institutions critically impacted the development of art practice in India. In Mumbai, the Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy School, then popularly known as the Bombay School of Art, opened in 1856 with the intention of teaching students the ‘science of art’, or the technical skills required to become master draughtsmen. The School shared a close association with the Museum, then known as the Victoria and Albert Museum, with several principals of the School serving simultaneously as the Museum’s curators. As a result, the Museum became a showcase for the new designs, decorative art products and modes of representation in painting and sculpture that were created by the students of the School. Some of these students later became Mumbai’s most renowned artists like Rao Bahadur M. V. Dhurandhar, Baburao Sadwelkar and P. A. Dhond.

Technical Schools were established in the Presidency towns of Bombay, Calcutta and Madras as well as at other important places such as Jaipur and Lucknow to improve public standards for good design. In the early days, these schools taught everything from dance and music to carpentry and pottery, as well as other "technical" skills such as drawing and painting.

This diorama from the mid-20th century depicts a technical school. It shows a school building with classrooms, a Museum Room, a Tool-House and Workshop. Students are portrayed learning weaving, carpentry, rope making, cultivation, ornamental gardening, music, dance and various crafts.

This aquatint titled 'Saumpareeah or Snake Catcher' by Sir Charles D'Oyly was published in a book consisting of twenty aquatints in 1813, titled ‘The European in India’. The purpose of the book was to introduce the reader to the lifestyle of a Company servant with a language that was instructive as well as amusing. This drawing reflects the popular imagery of India and gives the reader an insight into the life of a Company officer in pre-imperial India. This image shows a snake catcher or a ‘Saumpareeah’ who is playing an instrument and exhibiting snakes before the Europeans.

The word 'dilruba' has its origin in the Persian language and may be defined as 'the one who steals your heart'. It is a stringed instrument played with a bow and constructed of wood and animal skin. This musical instrument was acquired by the Museum in 1925.

An important outcome of the Great International Exhibition held in London at the Crystal Palace in 1851 was the establishment of Schools of Art in India. In Mumbai (Bombay), it was the endowment from the shipping merchant, Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, in 1853, that enabled the setting up of the Bombay School of Art. It is now known as the Sir J.J. School of Arts and is one of the premier art institutes in the country.                                                                   In 1872, George Terry, the superintendent of the School, started a pottery workshop on the school's premises to encourage experiments with various clays and glazing techniques along with various painted Indian motifs. Potters from Sind were invited to Bombay to guide the students. This type of pottery soon became known as The Wonderland Art Pottery or as Terryware and in 1875-76 it was supplied in large quantities to dealers in London. It was also greatly popular at international exhibitions, winning several medals.

This vase demonstrates a blend of western form and design inspired by a traditional Indian motif, the peacock feather. This pottery was much admired and popular at international exhibitions.

The floral patterns and colours observed on this glazed vase seem to be inspired by Art Noveau designs. The form of this pot is similar to classical Greek and Roman pottery as the School was experimenting with new techniques and forms.

Prominent amongst the Museum's collection of late 19th- early 20th century paintings executed by artists of the Sir J. J. School of Art are the watercolours of P. A. Dhond (1908 - 2001). Inspired by the land and sea-scapes of coastal Maharashtra, where he was raised, Dhond's watercolours would become the artist's most celebrated works.

Renowned artist Mahadev Vishwanath Dhurandhar studied at the Sir J. J. School of Art between 1890 and 1895. He was also the first Indian director (1919-1935) of the School of Art. Particularly skilled with watercolours, Dhurandhar became an illustrator and portraitist of great repute. He depicted his subjects with authenticity and sympathy, creating a unique visual record of contemporary Mumbai (Bombay) that has not been matched in any other city in India.

This painting depicts a lady from the Prabhu community in Mumbai dressed in traditional attire.

Renowned artist Mahadev Vishwanath Dhurandhar studied at the Sir J. J. School of Art between 1890 and 1895. He was also the first Indian director (1919-1935) of the School of Art. Particularly skilled with watercolours, Dhurandhar became an illustrator and portraitist of great repute. He depicted his subjects with authenticity and sympathy, creating a unique visual record of contemporary Mumbai (Bombay) that has not been matched in any other city in India.

This painting acquired by the Museum in 1928 depicts a court scene in the theatrical tradition of western history painting. It is remarkably similar to his cartoon wall mural, titled 'Stridhaman', which was commissioned by the Law Members' Chambers in 1929.

The Museum’s collection of clay models and dioramas document people, lifestyles and culture in Mumbai from the late 19th to the early 20th century. These models made at the Museum in early 1900’s represent different occupations of that period. They also provide the visitors with an insight into the economics of the city of Mumbai. Many of these occupations are still practiced in the city, as well as the country, even today.

Prominent amongst the Museum's collection of late 19th- early 20th century paintings executed by artists of the Sir J. J. School of Art are the watercolours of P. A. Dhond (1908 - 2001). Inspired by the land and sea-scapes of coastal Maharashtra, where he was raised, Dhond's watercolours would become the artist's most celebrated works.

Modern & Contemporary
Since the establishment of the Museum Trust in 2003, the Museum has augmented its permanent collection with new acquisitions, to create a comprehensive representation of the city’s art and culture from the 19th century onwards, including contemporary art. A collection of paintings by early 20th century J.J. School artists offer valuable insights into the School’s formative period and the beginnings of Indian modernism, complementing the Museum’s permanent collection from the early modern period. These works are illustrative of the revivalist, ‘Indian Renaissance’ art movement of the time, which drew inspiration from classical Indian art practices, specifically, the earlier tradition of Rajput painting. Artworks by Keshav Phadke, Kamalakant Save and Subhadra Anandkar are a part of this collection.A series of curated exhibitions titled 'Engaging Traditions', invites artists to respond to the Museum’s collection, history and archives. Through the exhibitions, the Museum has acquired works by contemporary artists such as Reena Kallat, Ranjani Shettar, Nalini Malani and Archana Hande.

The Museum hosted well-known artist Nalini Malani's solo show titled, 'Listening to the Shades' in December 2013. The show celebrated her achievement in receiving the prestigious Fukuoka prize (2013). The show comprised of 42 facsimile prints from the artist’s book, Listening to the Shades (2008) and three stop motion animations, Memory: Record/Erase(1996), Stains(1999) and Penelope(2012). Drawing from a wide range of references, Nalini Malani’s works are multi-layered narratives reviving ancient myths to address contemporary themes. Artist Nalini Malani donated a copy of the 42 facsimile prints, Listening to the Shades, to the Museum in February 2014.

Listening to the Shades is an artist’s book by Nalini Malani and Robert Storr, inspired by the writing of Christa Wolf on the ancient Greek myth of Cassandra. The forty-two facsimile printed reverse paintings, tells the story of Cassandra’s insights being ignored and considered heretical. In the contemporary context, she symbolizes the unfinished business of the women’s revolution - a woman’s thoughts and premonitions are not understood and recognized. Malani's breathtaking rendering of this classic narrative has deep resonance with the many challenges that women still face in every culture. Artist Nalini Malani donated a copy of the 42 facsimile prints, Listening to the Shades, to the Museum in February 2014.

Credits: Story

All artworks courtesy of Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai

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