India had special significance in 19th-century Britain. It was the key possession of the British Empire and many goods were made there for the British market. The rich displays of Indian art and design shown at the Great Exhibition of 1851 and at subsequent exhibitions influenced a number of British designers and commentators in the second half of the 19th century.
Flowering plant designs had been a dominant theme in Indian art since the reign of the 17th-century Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan. Such motifs were a popular source of inspiration for British designers and manufacturers in the 19th century.
British shawls based on Indian designs were popular throughout the 19th century. The elongated leaf motif was a commonly used pattern. It became known as 'paisley' in Britain because one of the leading manufacturing centres of such shawls was Paisley in Scotland.
British textile and wallpaper manufacturers were particularly influenced by the flat patterns of Indian chintzes and embroidery.
Enamelled gold, set with pearls, with a plaited gold chain
Museum no. 549-1868
Woven wool on a jacquard loom
Museum no. T.111-1977
Design for a Paisley Shawl
Watercolour and body colour
Museum no. E.4410-1911
Printed silk and wool
Museum no. T.190-1963
Block-printed cotton velvet lined and edged with ribbed cotton
Museum no. T.269-1979
Samuel Bourne (1834 - 1912)
In 1863 Samuel Bourne gave up his job as a bank clerk and moved to India, establishing a photographic firm in Simla, near Dehli. Bourne's detailed studies of the architecture and peoples of India proved very popular. The photographer also made a number of expeditions to the Himalayas. His many dramatic pictures were among the first ever produced of the region. Bourne's visual documentation of the expanding British Empire appealed to people in Britain eager to see images of 'exotic' India.
Thomas Wardle (1831 - 1909)
Thomas Wardle, the son of a silk dyer in Leek in Staffordshire, entered the family business on leaving school. By 1880 he owned two textiles print works: one for commercial dyeing and printing and the other for experimental works. Wardle was an avid traveller. His particular fascination for India lasted all his career and many of the textiles he produced show his interest in Indian patterns. He imported silk from India onto which he printed designs. He also perfected the dyeing and printing of tusser, the wild silk of India.
Queen Victoria (1819 - 1901)
Queen Victoria became Empress of India in 1876. In the minds of the British public the Queen was particularly associated with India, although she never visited the country. She did, however, declare great interest in India and even learnt Hindustani with her Indian secretary Abdul Karim. In 1890 Victoria commissioned an Indian style banqueting hall for one of her residences, Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.
Photograph of Lucknow, India
Albumen print from wet collodion on glass negative
Museum no. 7-1972
The Golden Temple, Amritsar
Museum no. IS.7:36-1998
Block-printed tusser silk
Museum no. CIRC.502-1965
Count Gleichen (Viktor Ferdinand Franz Eugen Gustav Adolf Constantin Friedrich Prinz von Hohenlohe-Langenburg)
Museum no. A.16-1963
Buildings and Interiors
The Durbar Hall
The Durbar Hall was part of an Indian Palace created for the 1886 Colonial and Indian Exhibition in Kensington, London. It was not a copy of a real palace, but a representation of a 'typical royal residence'. It was designed by Caspar Purdon Clarke, later Director of the V&A. Two wood carvers from India were brought to London to create the intricate floral panelling. The room was acquired by Lord Brassey who installed it in his London home and used it as a smoking room. The room is now in the Hastings Museum and Art Gallery.
The Durbar Room
In 1890 Queen Victoria commissioned an Indian style banqueting hall for one of her residences, Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. The Durbar Room, as the banqueting hall was known, was designed by John Lockwood Kipling, father of the famous novelist, Rudyard Kipling and Principal of the School of Art in Lahore (Pakistan) and Sardar Ram Singh, who taught wood-carving at the school.
Chinese and Indian Styles
Designs influenced by Indian art and architecture had been popular earlier in the 19th century. The interest in India had been stimulated by a number of illustrated books on the country. However, it was not until later in the century that large quantities of Indian goods began to be imported into Britain. The Indian display at the Great Exhibition of 1851 greatly increased the public's understanding of India's rich culture.