Victoria Memorial Hall Exhibition on Krishna – Iconographic Representations: A Note from the Curator

Joyee Roy

Curatorial Official

Victoria Memorial Hall

The exhibition on Krishna – Iconographic Representations is one of the more unusual exhibitions to be organized from the collection of the Victoria Memorial Hall, which is traditionally known as a treasure trove of European art, showcasing the works of masters such as Thomas and William Daniell, Johann Zoffany, Charles D’Oyly, Samuel Davis, Emily Eden and many others. Neither the more educated and knowledgeable visitors, nor the more general ones, give the VMH much credit for its holdings of Indian art. As a result, while seeking to collect some visitor feedback on the possibility of such an exhibition, I came across several responses that combined both curiosity and surprise. ‘Harinaam Sankirtan in the Victoria Memorial?’ ‘Do you have at least 10 objects on Krishna to exhibit?’ ‘Are you a Krishna devotee?’ This experience made me determined to select this theme for my exhibition, ‘Krishna – Iconographic Representations.’


However, this is not the only reason. Other strong ones played a role, too. I believe that my responsibility as a curatorial official is to help publicize the fact that the VMH collection is not only about European art, but that it has an equally rich collection of Indian art ranging across illustrated manuscripts in languages like Sanskrit, Oriya, Hindi, Punjabi,  Arabic, Urdu, Persian and Tibetan, Indian miniatures, folk and Kalighat patas, early Bengal oil paintings, oleographs, lithographs and a large number of incomparable masterpieces of the Bengal school of Art, including the works of Abanindranath Tagore, Gaganendranath Tagore, Sunayani Devi, Sucharu Devi, Nandalal Bose, Jamini Roy, and Chintamani Kar, to name only a few. And yet, in comparison to the several exhibitions displayed in the VMH on Western European paintings – for instance ‘The Magnificent Heritage of India as seen by the Daniells’, ‘Indian Land & Landscape by Western European artists’, and major exhibitions on the works of Samuel Davis, Charles D’Oyly, Emily Eden, and William Cornwallis Harris – relatively few exhibitions have featured Indian art, for instance ‘Kalighat Paintings’ in collaboration with the Victoria & Albert Museum, and the recent exhibitions on Gaganendranath Tagore and Abanindranath Tagore, featuring the landmark collaboration between the VMH and Rabindra Bharati Society.

Whether focusing on European or Indian art, most of the exhibitions displayed at the VMH in last decade or so have not been theme-based but have sought to showcase the works of different individual artists. By contrast, the current theme-based exhibition undertakes a comparative illustration of visuals through art works in different media and genres, created by different artists in different periods. In short, the evolution of Indian art through the theme of Krishna may be seen in this exhibition, which showcases a selection from the VMH collection of around fifty five artefacts on Krishna in different media. The selection includes an illustrated manuscript of the Vaishnava text Geeta Govinda, two illustrated Oriya manuscripts, miniature paintings of the late medieval period, patachitras, early Bengal oil paintings, oleographs, lithographs, prints, coins, metal sculptures, paintings from the Bengal school of art and modern paintings of the first half of the twentieth century.


After inauguration of the exhibition on 23rd April, 2015, I received huge positive feedback from visitors of all kind. The exhibition is a huge success as visitors are able to see first time a very good collection of Victoria Memorial on Krishna through Indian Art. The exhibition is open for visitors till 24th May, 2015.



Lastly, it should be mentioned that the concept of this unusual exhibition was conceived by me as a Vivekananda Memorial Fellow in Museum Excellence, 2014-15, conducted by the Art Institute of Chicago in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture, Government of India.