Conservation in Action: Tippoo's Tiger

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Video Transcript

Nigel Bamforth, Senior Conservator, Furniture and Wood, V&A

I’m Nigel Bamforth and I’m Senior Conservator in the furniture and wood section of the Victoria & Albert Museum. We work on a great many objects and Tippoo’s Tiger is one of the objects we’re privileged to work on. The object has come into the storeroom for some analysis and whilst the object is here we’re looking to take some wood samples and trying to identify some of the original surfaces of the object and that state of the object as a whole on the inside. We have been taking photographic records of the interior so hopefully this will give us a bit more insight into the original fabric of the object.

What we are trying to achieve is to see what layers there are on the object and what the original color scheme of the object was. In most areas it is very evident that there is overpainting. In fact there aren’t many areas that you would say haven’t been overpainted. This is very recognizable by the depth of the paint surfaces and the painting over the glosses that can be seen on the body and on the trousers on the object. Areas like this silver band here, this is raised, and it looks like a foil that has been bent over. It would be interesting to know whether this is something that has been applied or whether this was original, it looks like it’s been applied, I would have thought. And also the whole color scheme for the body. The numerous whiskers that have been painted on it, and these might just be a romantic interpretation by a person who restored later. Round his jaws here, the spots have been applied and they are very basic spots that have been put on.

For the paint analysis it requires taking a very small sample of the surfaces. What my colleague and I are looking at is removing areas from different parts of the body of both the tiger and the man. We’re doing this with a scalpel and we’ll be embedding the fragments into little resin ice cubes and these will be ground and then they will go to the science department for analysis.


Ruler of a militant South Indian province, Sultan Tipu raged bloody war against the British occupation. His hatred of the British Empire was only matched in ferocity by Tipu's passion for tigers. Tipu's weapons, regalia and furniture all bore the image of the tiger. These twin passions came together in the form of Tippoo's Tiger, an extraordinary crafted mechanical object incorporating a pipe organ that was made in 1790.

Tipu's hatred of the British Empire was only matched in ferocity by his passion for tigers...

When the son of a British general was killed in a tiger attack, Tipu viewed it as fitting symbolic vengeance and commissioned this life-size, automated wooden organ to celebrate the event. In this film, Senior Conservator Nigel Bamforth examines an object that was brought back to England after its owner’s final defeat in 1799, and is now established as a firm V&A favourite