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India Office: Popular paintings

A collection of 19th and 20th century Indian paintings from the India Office, now in the British Library.

Paddle-steamer on the Hooghly

Paddle-steamer on the Hooghly, watercolour over a lithographed outline, Kalighat painting by Becaram Das Datta, 1857. Copyright © The British Library Board


Folk paintings were made by Indian artists in towns or villages at a popular level from an early date, but few early examples are known. 

The British Library's collection consists of 19th and 20th century examples, and includes pictures made for sale to pilgrims at the Kalighat and Jagannatha temples in Calcutta and Puri, scroll paintings made by Jadupatua artists for entertaining Santals in the Santal Parganas (Bihar), Mali lantern paintings used for worship of the snake goddess Bishalari (Bihar), and Maithil (Madhubani, Bihar) paintings originally prepared as aide-mémoires for wall-paintings. A group of photographs made in 1940 illustrate Maithil murals in situ. The collection also includes 19th century Calcutta woodcuts.

The majority have been described in a catalogue by Mildred Archer (1977), except for recent acquisitions. About 700 items, accessed by Add. Or. numbers.


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