Indian textiles & Empire: Caspar Purdon Clarke

1883 Purchases

Caspar Purdon Clarke (1846-1911)

Caspar Purdon Clarke (1846-1911) Portrait from Magazine of Art, Vol XV, 1891-92

Sir Caspar Purdon Clarke (1846-1911) was an architect, archaeologist and museum director. During the 1870s, Purdon Clarke travelled on purchasing expeditions on behalf of the South Kensington Museum to Turkey, Syria, Greece, Spain, Italy and Germany. In 1882 he was sent to India with a budget of £5000 to buy objects for the museum's Indian collections. £3000 of this came from admission fees paid to see the Prince of Wales' gifts from Indian princes. The Indian collections had been acquired in 1879 as the result of a merger with the Indian Museum, originally set up by the East India Company; part of the collection had been dispersed to other museums. The expedition was planned meticulously. Clarke had a special uniform made for him and every effort was made to give him an official aura. His fee was £1 a day plus expenses of a guinea (£1.05) a day, in addition to first class fares.

Clarke sent more than 300 cases of goods back to South Kensington, containing over 3000 objects including architectural pieces, sculpture, paintings, manuscripts, metalwork, jewellery and sixteen life-sized models of Indian craft workers. Not all the objects survive today, but the substantial remaining collections include folios from the Hamzanama, or 'Book of Hamza', now among the highlights of the V&A's Mughal collections. He also purchased over 700 Indian textiles, from sumptuous gold and silver weaves to block printed cottons of every quality and items of worn clothing. Many of these textiles were displayed in the Indian Pavilion at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition held at South Kensington in 1886.

The Museum's Indian Section owed its structure to Clarke's organising capabilities and he was Director of the Museum from 1896 to 1905. A practising architect who designed several buildings in the Indian style, he also lectured on architecture as well as eastern arts and crafts and arms and armour. The last stage of his distinguished career was as Director of the Metropolitan Museum in New York (1905-11).

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