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India and Southeast Asia: Company drawings

The British Library holds collections of drawings made for East India Company officials, chiefly by Indian artists, from the late 18th century onwards. Their style and subject matter reflect British techniques and interests. These drawings are held in the Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections.

A portrait of three villagers standing on a hillside

A portrait of three villagers standing on a hillside painted by a Delhi based artist. This painting was commissioned by the brothers, William and James Fraser, some time between 1815 and 1819. Copyright © The British Library Board

The collection includes examples from all the main centres where Company drawings were produced: in South India at Tanjore, Madras, Trichinopoly, Madurai and Malabar; and in the North at Murshidabad, Calcutta, Patna, Benares, Lucknow and Delhi. 

Also included are examples from Coorg, Cuttack, Chapra, Arrah, Western India, the Punjab and Kashmir. Some 500 by Chinese artists at Canton also reflect western influence and patronage. The drawings reflect the interests of the British in Indian life and culture, especially castes, occupations, methods of transport, religious festivals and gods. Some from Trichinopoly, Patna, Murshidabad and Benares are painted on sheets of mica.

Apart from the interest of their subject matter, some of these drawings are outstanding works of art in their own right, and the collections contain examples of the work of major artists such as Shaikh Zain al-Din, Sita Ram, Sevak Ram, Ghulam Murtaza Khan, Ghulam 'Ali Khan and Mazhar 'Ali Khan, as well as other anonymous master artists. The most recent addition to these collections is the 'Delhi Book' of Sir Thomas Theophilus Metcalfe.

The 'Additional Oriental' collection also includes drawings from Tibet (the 'Wise Albums' of vernacular maps, etc.), Nepal, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. There is also a collection of drawings by modern Indian artists such as Gopal Ghose and Avinash Chandra.

Each drawing, whether separate or bound into an album, has an individual Add. Or. number. About half the collection is described in a catalogue by Mildred Archer (1972). About 4,000 drawings.

Online Catalogue


Prints, Drawings and Photographs Section
Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7856/7327/7663
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7641