The Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum (formerly the Victoria and Albert Museum) is Mumbai’s oldest Museum, it showcases the city’s cultural heritage and history through a rare collection of Fine and Decorative Arts that highlight Early Modern Art practices as well as the craftsmanship of various communities of the Bombay Presidency. Situated in Byculla East, it was originally established in 1855 as a treasure house of the decorative and industrial arts, and was later renamed in honour of Bhau Daji.
The Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum seeks to serve the community as an institution dedicated to excellence in cultural education through exhibitions and different visual and intellectual media. To engage the community, especially children, to promote a greater appreciation of Mumbai’s artistic, cultural and economic history and development and to promote cross cultural understanding and cultural awareness at all levels.
The permanent collection includes miniature clay models, dioramas, maps, lithographs, photographs, and rare books that document the life of the people of Mumbai and the history of the city from the late eighteenth to early-twentieth centuries.
The Museum’s extensive education and outreach programme including film, music, courses and lectures on history of art, guided tours and children’s workshops, are focused on providing stimulating, participatory experiences that respond to different age, interest and language groups, and recognize a diversity of backgrounds. These experiences are aimed at encouraging a critical engagement with Mumbai’s history and artistic and cultural developments.
The Museum, once in a derelict condition, underwent a comprehensive five-year restoration and re-opened in 2008. The project won UNESCO’s international Award of Excellence for cultural conservation in 2005. The Museum hosts an extensive exhibitions programme which explores the importance of the collection and includes a strong focus on contemporary art and culture.
The Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum opened to the public in 1857 and is Mumbai’s oldest Museum. It is the erstwhile Victoria and Albert Museum, Bombay. The Museum building is one of the most important historical sites of the city. It was the first colonial building to be built for the specific purpose of housing a museum. Bombay, then the richest mercantile town in India, was considered the Gateway to the East or Urbs Prima in India, the first city of India, and had the honour of exhibiting to the world the country’s rich cultural traditions.
The idea of setting up a museum in Mumbai was mooted in 1850 when preparations were being made for the first ‘Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations’ to be held in London’s Crystal Palace in 1851. Prince Albert, the consort of Queen Victoria, wanted to present to the world the industrial arts and crafts of Britain’s colonies and thereby stimulate trade for these products. Duplicates of India’s beautiful arts and crafts that were sent to the Great Exhibition from the Bombay Presidency formed the nucleus of the new museum’s collection. The Museum was established in 1855 in the Town Barracks as the Central Museum of Natural History, Economy, Geology, Industry and Arts.
In 1858, soon after the Crown took over the direct governance of India from the East India Company, a group of public spirited citizens decided that the first important public institution to be built in Bombay would be a museum along with a natural history and botanical garden.
A public meeting was called in the Town Hall to raise funds for the new Museum building which would house the collection and would be dedicated to Queen Victoria. Jugonnath Sunkarsett, one of the prominent merchant princes of Bombay, chaired the meeting which was attended by city patrons from different communities, including Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Parsis highlighting the cosmopolitan character of the city.
The Museum was fortunate to have among its early curators some of the leading personalities of Bombay whose vision and energy directed its establishment and the formation of the collection. Dr. George Buist was appointed secretary and curator in 1855 by Governor Lord Elphinstone when the Museum Committee was formally established.Dr. Buist was the editor of the Bombay Times and secretary of the Bombay Geographical Society. The Committee was charged with organising the exhibits from the Bombay Presidency to form a collection for the newly established Museum of ‘Economic Products’. A nucleus collection had been put together by Dr. Buist with the duplicates of objects sent to Paris and kept in the Mess Rooms of the Town Barracks. However, many of these were damaged when the barracks were requisitioned for British troops in the 1857 War of Independence.
In 1903, Cecil L. Burns, principal of the School of Art, Bombay, took charge of the Museum. Burns reorganised the Museum collection to make it more appealing to the public. He also embarked on a major effort to rejuvenate the Museum building as it had fallen in a state of disrepair. Burns had three dimensional models and dioramas made that documented life in Bombay, the development of the city and the traditions of its inhabitants that greatly interested the audiences of the day. Changes were made to the collection and display, the stuffed animals were sent Haffkine Institute and the larger archaeological material was handed over to the Prince of Wales Museum.
A little more than a hundred years later, on November 1, 1975, the Museum was renamed the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum in honour of the man whose vision and dedication enabled its establishment. Dr. Bhau Daji Lad was the first Indian Sheriff of Mumbai, a philanthropist, historian, physician, surgeon and secretary of the Museum Committee when it was first instituted.
By 1997, the Museum had fallen into a state of disrepair. The derelict condition in which this extraordinary 19th century building lay resulted in INTACH’s effort to restore the building and objects. A tripartite agreement was signed between the MCGM, the Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation and INTACH in February 2003 and the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum Trust was established for the revitalisation and management of the Museum. After five years of intensive restoration by INTACH, the Museum was reopened to the public on January 4, 2008. The Museum was inaugurated by Mr. Uddhav Thackeray and attended by several city leaders and citizens.
In 1997, a search for a location to establish a conservation laboratory occasioned a visit by INTACH officers to the Museum. The dismal state in which this extraordinary 19th century building lay resulted in INTACH’s effort to convince the Municipal Corporation(MCGM) of the urgent need to restore the building and artefacts. MCGM sanctioned the Museum project and INTACH attempted to raise private funding from corporate houses.
In 1999 INTACH approached the Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation generously agreed to financially support the Museum restoration and revitalisation project. A tripartite agreement was signed between the MCGM, the Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation and INTACH in February 2003 and the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum Trust was established for the revitalisation and management of the Museum.
Between 2003 and 2007, this museum has undergone a major restoration under the supervision of the Mumbai chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) and financed by the Jamnalal Bajaj Trust.
The Museum is managed by a public-private partnership, a first for a cultural institution in India. The partnership involves the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, the Jamanlal Bajaj Foundation and the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH).
Tasneem Zakaria Mehta is the Honorary Director of the Museum and has a Board of Management and Trustees that include the Mayor and the Municipal Commissioner of Mumbai.
As Mumbai’s oldest museum, the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum showcases the city’s cultural heritage and history through a rare collection of 19th century fine and decorative arts that highlight early modern art practices and craftsmanship in the erstwhile Bombay Presidency and beyond. The permanent collection includes miniature clay models, dioramas, maps, lithographs, photographs, and rare books that document the life of the people of Mumbai and the history of the city from the late 18th to early 20th centuries. Since the establishment of the Museum Trust in 2003, the Museum has augmented its permanent collection with new acquisitions, to create a comprehensive representation of the city’s art and culture from the 19th century onwards, including contemporary art. The curatorial strategy and display highlight the primary themes within the collection.
This museum houses a large number of archaeological finds, maps and historical photographs of Mumbai, clay models, silver and copper ware and costumes. Its significant collections include a 17th-century manuscript of Hatim Tai Outside the museum is the istallation of the monolithic basalt elephant sculpture recovered from the sea, which originated from Elephanta Island (Gharapuri Island).
Mumbai (Bombay) History
The Museum’s collection of miniature clay models, dioramas, maps, lithographs, photographs and rare books document and illustrate the life of the people of Mumbai and the history of the city from the late 18th to early 20th centuries.
In early 1900s the curators envisioned the Museum to be a centre for the collection and exhibition of pictorial records and antiquities of the history of the city and the neighbourhood in which the Museum was situated. A collection of facsimiles of maps, plans, prints and photographs of the islands of Bombay (now Mumbai) were procured. This collection was opened to the public in 1918. Dated between 1600 and 1900, the collection records the architectural history of the city and its evolution from seven islands to a vibrant urban centre or the Urbs Prima in Indis (first city in India) by the mid 19th century. It also chronicles the evolution in geography that resulted from invasions, economic growth and urban planning. On display are maps depicting the development of Bombay from the late 17th – early 20th centuries.
The collection includes models of the earliest boats in the city’s harbour, the first textile mills in Worli and a diorama of Bombay Castle, the administrative headquarters at the heart of the British Fort.
The Museum’s collection of glass negatives is a visual record of 19th century Mumbai. The collection has more than 1500 glass negatives and documents various aspects of the city including architecture, prominent citizens and old city views.
Trade & Cultural Exchange
Trade was always the dominant impulse in colonial India. At the height of Industrial Revolution in 1851, Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria, conceived of international exhibitions to display industrial products from British colonies, a trend that soon spread to other European nations. Trade in Indian fine and decorative arts was stimulated by these international exhibitions and fairs of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which along with the Arts and Crafts movement in England, created international interest in Indian design and craftsmanship. Indian artisans were asked to produce objects of art to be sent all over the world for these international exhibitions.
In response to a growing market, experiments to modify Indian fine and decorative art products to suit European and anglicised Indian elite tastes were conducted by workshops and technical schools established by the British to train Indian artisans and craftsmen. From these schools and workshops emerged products for trade that merged Indian design with European form.
Copies of the industrial art products sent to the Paris Universal Exhibition in 1855 forms the nucleus of the collection in the Museum’s Industrial Arts Gallery.
Early Modern Period
The Museum’s extraordinary collection of models and dioramas served to document the life and culture of 19th century Mumbai and is an important extension of the colonial project to capture in minute detail the people of India. Produced under the tutelage of the Museum’s curators Ernst Fern and C. L. Burns, both of whom were also principals of the Sir J. J. School of Art, the collection also forms a unique art historical reference to the larger genre of Company School painting. ‘Company painting’ refers to the hybrid style that emerged during the early 18th to the 19th centuries. Used to document different aspects of Indian life such as festivals, occupations, communities, local rulers and monuments, the style was naturalistic and displays European influence on Indian art.
From the mid-19th century, schools of Art and technical training established by the British in India, imparted western art education to Indian artists and craftsmen. Closely associated with the earliest museums, these institutions critically impacted the development of art practice in India.
In Mumbai, the Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy School, then popularly known as the Bombay School of Art, opened in 1856 with the intention of teaching students the ‘science of art’, or the technical skills required to become master draughtsmen. The School shared a close association with the Museum, then known as the Victoria and Albert Museum, with several principals of the School serving simultaneously as the Museum’s curators. As a result, the Museum became a showcase for the new designs, decorative art products and modes of representation in painting and sculpture that were created by the students of the School. Some of these students later became Mumbai’s most renowned artists like Rao Bahadur M. V. Dhurandhar, Baburao Sadwelkar and P. A. Dhond.
Modern & Contemporary
Since the establishment of the Museum Trust in 2003, the Museum has augmented its permanent collection with new acquisitions, to create a comprehensive representation of the city’s art and culture from the 19th century onwards, including contemporary art.
A collection of paintings by early 20th century J.J. School artists offer valuable insights into the School’s formative period and the beginnings of Indian modernism, complementing the Museum’s permanent collection from the early modern period. These works are illustrative of the revivalist, ‘Indian Renaissance’ art movement of the time, which drew inspiration from classical Indian art practices, specifically, the earlier tradition of Rajput painting. Artworks by Keshav Phadke, Kamalakant Save and Subhadra Anandkar are a part of this collection.
A series of curated exhibitions titled ‘Engaging Traditions’, invites artists to respond to the Museum’s collection, history and archives. Through the exhibitions, the Museum has acquired works by contemporary artists such as Reena Kallat, Ranjani Shettar, Nalini Malani and Archana Hande.
The Museum Restoration Project won the 2005 UNESCO Asia Pacific Heritage
Through a holistic conservation plan, which has addressed both the museum building and the collection, the project establishes a new benchmark in the conservation of museums for India and the region. By modernising the internal infrastructure while paying careful attention to restoring the decorative details of the building, the project has demonstrated a balanced approach between the refined mastery of conservation techniques and the support of crafts skills.
The project has succeeded in sparking the revival of dying techniques such as gilding and stencil work. The building now stands as a unique testimony to the development of Victorian architecture in the context of the hybrid building and crafts traditions of 19th century India, as well as to the civic traditions embodied in one of the country’s earliest museums.