Photograph album

The significance of this object lies in its history and the very fine nature of its carving. It would benefit from further details pertaining to the Prince of Wales’ tour and whether there is any reference to the album being presented and also in how it has been valued or unvalued in its subsequent life. Secondly, there is a need to ascertain just how many covers like this exist in museum collections and in addition, a study on the Mysore carvers themselves and the work being produced during the colonial encounter would also be worthwhile. I believe there is also some merit in undertaking further research on the photographs themselves, the photographers Barton, Sons & Co of Bangalore (their photographs are also in Cambridge University and British Library collections) and the current whereabouts of other sets of this series (the Curator of Ethnography has identified a copy of the photographs in this album sold at auction). The multifaceted nature of the research that could be undertaken suggests this object could even be the focus of a PhD thesis. Catalogue description A large b/w plate photographic album of various Mysore scenes including, colonial government institutions, the Maharaja’s palace, local landscapes and significant Hindu sites. The album is bound in an ornately carved sandalwood cover, featuring borders in the style of traditional Mysore carving, with energetic figures surrounded by dense flowers and foliage. The central panels are dealt with in a European style of carving, with scenes of elephants in the landscape and royal palaces. The spine is bracketed to the front covers with gold-coloured hinges. Narrative Between November 1905 and March 1906 the Prince of Wales (later to be George V) and his consort Mary (later to be Queen Mary), undertook a tour of India and Burma. They visited at a particularly difficult time. Only the previous October the partition of Bengal had made Lord Curzon the Indian Viceroy (essentially the proxy ruler of India), which had caused an outcry amongst the growing nationalist movement in India. They reached Bombay (now Mumbai) on the 9th of November 1905, their six month tour took them to all the influential Princely States in India where they were entertained with durbars and military reviews, elephant hunts and tiger shoots. Their itinerary was as follows: ‘Bombay, Indore, Jaipur, Lahore, Peshawar, Jammu, Delhi, Agra, Gwalior, Lucknow, Calcutta, Rangoon, Mandalay, Madras, Bangalore, Mysore, Hyderabad, Benares, Gwalior (again), Quetta and Karachi’. A full account of the tour is given in Sir Stanley Reed’s The Royal Tour of India, which can be bought as a print on demand book from Amazon or AbeBooks. What the Prince did during his stay with the Maharaja of Mysore can be found in full there. Along with the Nizam of Hyderabad, the Maharaja of Mysore, Sir Sri Krishnaraja Wodeyar Bahadur (1884-1940) was considered to be the most powerful of all the rulers of the Indian Princely States. He became the ruler of Mysore state at the age of 18 and initiated a series of health, education and agricultural reforms that won widespread praise from both the British and the nationalist campaigners, amongst them Mahatma Gandhi. Just prior to the Prince of Wales’ arrival in August 1905, Mysore became the first city in Asia to have electric street lights. He was also a great champion of the arts and particularly those most closely associated with South India. The exquisite album that we see here was presented to the Prince of Wales, most likely by the Maharaja of Mysore as a souvenir of his visit to the state. Within the plates of the album we find a record of the places that the Prince had visited and the very visible achievements of the Maharaja’s reforms. Interestingly, the Prince and his Mysore host appear to have also visited Seringapatnam (today’s, Serangapatna) the site of Tipu Sultan’s (he of Tipu’s Tiger fame in the V&A) eventual defeat at the hands of the British in 1799, perhaps included in order to show the British that the Mysore loyalties were clearly aligned to the British. The album with its mixture of European and Carnatic (South Indian) style carvings on the book cover is a wonderful representation of the artistic symbiosis that resulted from the Anglo-Indian encounter. A tool of intelligence gathering, the photographic record, had been turned into a royal aide memoire. And in a further case of cultural transformation I have found another example of these deeply carved covers dating from the same period in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which show that these types of covers are likely to have been made to hold religious manuscripts (this makes sense as sandalwood is a natural insect repellent and would have preserved the sacred texts inside), see, http://lacma.wordpress.com/2010/11/11/challenges-of-conservation-the-mysore-album-cover-project/ Royal gifts of this sort were often disposed of either through discreet auction house sales or through loans to relevant museums. In this case it did not go to the more obvious British Library, but to Farringdon School, I’m sure with further research it could be determined what George V’s relationship was with the school. Then as the notes in the RAMM archive states: "Transferred from the Cathedral Library. Originally presented to King George V. Given to the Trustees of Farringdon House School by Queen Mary, from where it passed into the possession of the Trustees of Northbrook School. It was on permanent loan from the Trustees to the Cathedral until being passed to the museum by Canon Ison as no-one wanted it." Finally, let us try and put a collective face to the carver of this album cover. A useful source when dealing with colonial period material culture from India is the, Indian Art at Delhi 1903: The Official Catalogue of the Delhi Exhibition, 1902-03, by George Watt (again a reprint is available on Amazon, or it can be partially viewed via GoogleBooks). The book is a record of the many Indian artists who were the prize winners that took part in the exhibition, an exhibition arranged for the 1903 Delhi Durbar, a major colonial pageant. The exhibition brought together the very best Indian artists and craftsmen from right across India and it is in catalogues and directories such as these that we can begin to construct a picture of the Mysore carvers and we also find in this source the names of decorated carvers. On pp. 147-150 we find under Division 15 – Sandal-wood, a description of the material and its centres of production. I quote here from those pages: Sandalwood is the most popular and most expensive of all woods. It is with the Natives of India engraved, inlaid or veneered and made into a variety of most beautiful and artistic articles. Of chandan (sandal-wood) it might in fact be said that after ivory it is the material best suited for ornamental treatment. It is utilized at many localities, remote from the regions of production, such as Cuttack in Bengal; Delhi in the Panjab; Indore and Alway in Rajputana; and Ahmedabad and Surat in Bombay. The chief centres of sandal-wood carving are, however, Sorab and Sugar in Mysore; Travencore, Trichinopoly, Tirupati, Madura and Coimbatore in Madras; and Karana, Surat, Ahmedabad and Bombay in the Western Presidency. There are said to be three qualities of the wood dependant on the age of the tree, the locality of production, and the position in the stem from which derived. As a rule the darker the colour the better the quality. The art of sandal-wood carving is usually confined to one or two families. In Mysore, in the Shimoga District, the most important centre of the craft, there are, for example, not more than eight families with 35 artizans in all. These are known as gudigars. They claim to have come from Goa and to owe their name to the circumstances that they were originally the hereditary carvers and painters of the temple (or gudi) [EM – gudi can also specifically mean throne]. The resemblance of the name gudigar to kondikar (the ivory carvers of Bengal) suggests a possible caste identity. The instruments employed by sandal-wood carvers are extremely simple, vis., a saw, a plane, a mallet, a hone or fine-grained hard stone, and an assortment of various kinds and sizes of chisels and a few engraver’s tools – some extremely minute and delicate. Then follows a description of the practice of carving and some derogatory comments on the work ethic of the carvers and their ‘laziness’, which were classic colonial observations by the British of all classes of Indians. Then it continues that several of the ‘chief exhibits’ had been made for the Maharaja of Mysore’s palace and have been lent for the exhibition. Then finally in a list of works worthy of special mention we find at the bottom of the list, ‘Album boards by Jade Gopalappa of Sorab; Rs.138’. Although it is not possible to say for certain that Jade Gopalappa made the Exeter album cover, we do now know where the carvers of the Exeter album lived and worked and the hereditary nature of their artistry and the small number of carvers who were actually engaged in this type of work. This reference to a named individual is however tantalising. Jade Gopalappa was specifically chosen by the Maharaja to make work for the 1903 exhibition as he was considered to have attained a level of excellence in his album carving. Just three years later this album cover would be made for the future George V and the Maharaja would have surely turned to a carver who he considered to be worthy of the commission and this could very possibly have been Jade Gopalappa.

Object Summary

Museum Number 607/2005
Simple Name book
Full Name Reminiscences of Mysore
Common Name photograph album
Production country india
Collection class Archives and images
Collection continent Asia
Collection area/region S
Production continent Asia
Production year high pre 1906