Click here to skip to content

India Office: Paintings, sculpture and furniture

The East India Company commissioned and collected paintings and sculpture. These are now held in the Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections of the British Library.
Hasan Reza Khan

Hasan Reza Khan, Minister to Nawab Asaf al-Daula of Oudh, painted by Johann Zoffany in Lucknow in 1784. F108. Copyright © The British Library Board

Enlarge

In the 18th and 19th centuries the East India Company commissioned and collected oil paintings and sculptures to decorate their London headquarters in Leadenhall Street.

One of their most famous commissions was a set of six paintings of the Company's principal factories and stations by George Lambert and Samuel Scott. These were displayed in the newly refurbished Directors' Court Room, along with a magnificent marble fireplace and mantel sculpture by Michael Rysbrack. Other commissions included life-size marble statues of Robert Clive and his contemporaries by Pieter Scheemakers, which adorned the General Court Room.

Gifts of paintings to the Company included 10 of Indian monuments by Francis Swain Ward, accepted in 1773, and portraits of Asian rulers, including Fath 'Ali Shah and Nadir Shah of Persia, Muhammad 'Ali the Nawab of the Carnatic, Tipu Sultan of Mysore, and Jang Bahadur Rana of Nepal. Portraits of East India Company officials such as Warren Hastings and the Marquis Cornwallis were also gifted.

As for furniture, the original tables and chairs used in the Directors' Court Room in East India House, where the six paintings by George Lambert and Samuel Scott were also displayed, are now held by the British Library. These and other items of historic furniture from the old India Office are described in a catalogue by John Hardy (1982).

Some of the India Office paintings and sculptures that are now curated by the British Library are cared for off-site. The largest paintings and the life-size statues remain in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (formerly the India Office) in Whitehall. The largest painting in the collection, Benjamin West's The Grant of the Diwani to Lord Clive, is on long-term loan to the National Trust at Powis Castle, Welshpool. The works of art and historic furnishings of the old India Office have been described in a catalogue by William Foster (1924), while revised descriptions of the paintings and sculptures as well as subsequent acquisitions have been published by Mildred Archer (1986).

These are accessed by F (Foster) numbers, including items acquired subsequently to 1924. 130 paintings and 33 sculptures.

The historic furniture associated with the Directors' Court Room in East India House, which was moved to the Council Chamber of the India Office, is in the care of the British Library. These and other items of historic furniture from the old India Office are described in a catalogue by John Hardy (1982).

Online catalogue

Contact

Prints, Drawings and Photographs Section
Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections
The British Library
96 Euston Road
London
NW1 2DB
United Kingdom

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

E-mail: apac-prints@bl.uk