India Office popular paintings

Two dancing-girls performing. Calcutta (India), c. 1865.
Two dancing-girls performing. Calcutta (India), c. 1865.

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

About the collection

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. The collection also includes 19th century Calcutta woodcuts.

What is available online?

Prints, drawings and paintings can be found using keywords, subjects, individuals and building names in the Library's Explore Archives and Manuscripts catalogue.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

Prints, drawings and paintings from the India Office collections can be viewed in the Print Room, located in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room. Viewing is by appointment only, Monday-Friday. For appointment details, please email

Further information

A useful reference work about this collection is:

Indian popular painting in the India Office Library, by Mildred Archer (London, 1977).

How to guides

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