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Press release

Splendours of the Subcontinent: A Prince's Tour of India 1875–6

Release date: Thursday, 5 April 2018


Magnificent works of art that brought the wonders of India to Britain at the end of the 19th century are to go on display in London for the first time in over 130 years, in an exhibition at The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace.  Exploring the historic visit made by Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), Splendours of the Subcontinent: A Prince's Tour of India 1875–6 brings together some of the finest examples of Indian design and craftsmanship in the Royal Collection, presented to the Prince as part of the traditional exchange of gifts.

The four-month tour undertaken by the Prince of Wales in 1875 preceded the formal declaration of his mother, Queen Victoria, as the Empress of India.  While more than half of the Indian subcontinent was governed by the British Crown, the remainder of India was ruled semi-autonomously by Indian rulers, referred to as 'Maharajas', who were linked to the Crown by resident governors.  The visit sought to establish personal links with these local rulers and strengthen ties between the subcontinent and the British Crown.  Visits to a number of royal courts offered the Prince the opportunity to experience the splendour and spectacle of Indian courtly traditions, and to learn about the cultures, history and religions of a country he would one day rule.

Diplomatic gift giving played an important role in courts across the subcontinent, with elaborate offerings exchanged between guests and their hosts.  During the tour the Prince presented specimens of British craftsmanship, such as books, presentation swords and jewellery made by the crown jewellers Garrard and Co.  In return the Indian rulers presented examples of Indian craftsmanship, such as the enamelled gold and diamond perfume holder from Ram Singh II, Maharajah of Jaipur.  Demonstrating the internationally celebrated local enamelling technique, the work was recorded as having taken five years to produce and is enamelled with depictions of Jaipur's iconic palaces in hues of pink, green, red and blue.

The Prince exchanged gifts with over 90 rulers during the tour, and many of the gifts received related to the traditions of a durbar (audience).  A magnificent ten-piece gold service, given by the Maharaja of Mysore, contains ceremonial objects such as an attardan (perfume holder), rosewater sprinklers and a paandan (betel-nut holder), items associated with welcoming guests to an Indian court.  A pair of enamelled peacock feather fans, commonly used at court to keep the ruler cool, were also presented to Albert Edward, and examples of such feature in a number of scenes such as State elephants at Baroda, 19 November, 1875, 1875, captured by the artist Sydney Prior Hall who accompanied the Royal party.

Jewels and adornment were worn by the Indian rulers to signify status, and the Prince of Wales received several examples of jewellery during the tour associated with his status as heir to the throne.  One of the first gifts bestowed upon the Prince on his arrival in the subcontinent was a gold and emerald turban ornament, seen as an emblem of royalty in India, which was presented by Sajjan Singh, Maharana of Udaipur.  Whilst in Indore, Ranjit Singh, Raja of Ratlam, gifted Albert Edward a brooch and necklace featuring a depiction of the Prince and Princess of Wales, undoubtedly a special commission produced in anticipation of the tour.

A large proportion of the gifts received by the Prince were examples of traditional arms and armour, including exquisite jewelled daggers, swords and ceremonial shields.  A gold and jewelled walking stick, thought to have been presented by Maharao Ram Singh of Bundi, features a concealed dual function – a three barrel gun.  Showcasing the technical skill of Indian weaponry design, the walking stick gun features an intricate gold handle in the shape of a makara, a mythological Indian sea creature, that could be pulled back to deploy the trigger.

By the end of the tour the Prince had received over 2,000 gifts from the local rulers he had met.  Recognising the cultural value and artistic merit of these items, on his return to Britain he made arrangements for them to be placed on public display.  The exhibition, The Prince of Wales's Indian Collection, opened at the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum) in 1876, and offered a vivid account of the Prince's time in India.  The first week of the display saw nearly 30,000 visitors view the collection, and the success and enthusiastic reception led to the gifts travelling Britain and Europe until 1883 to allow as many people as possible to view the extraordinary works from the subcontinent. 


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