Relegated till now to the dark storerooms of the Victoria Memorial Hall, thousands of vintage paintings and rare artefacts will soon be put on display.
As part of a Rs 60-crore renovation and modernisation programme, authorities of the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata are revamping existing galleries and adding two new ones to create more space for exhibition of its priceless treasure trove.
For want of display space, much of the museum’s prized possessions, like the world’s third largest oil painting by Russian artist Veretchagin, have been kept away from the public eye for a long time, memorial’s curator Dr Jayanta Sengupta told PTI. Measuring 274 inches by 196, the painting shows the state entry of King Edward VII — then prince of Wales — to Jaipur in 1876.
Its other collection include paintings of the Sepoy mutiny of 1857, oil paintings by Thomas and William Daniel, Abanindranath Tagore and Gaganendranath Tagore of the Bengal school of art, rare copies of illustrated texts by Shakespeare, Tipu Sultan’s dagger, Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s sword, manuscript of ‘Akbarnama’ and Queen Victoria’s piano among others.
Once ready in the next one to two years, the museum authorities will be able to put on display around 10,000-12,000 objects at any time from its 33,000-strong collection.
While the Memorial authorities own more than 28,000 objects, another 5,000 paintings from the Bengal School of Art, which was spearheaded by Abanindranath Tagore, are on loan from the Rabindra Bharati Society. Only around 10 per cent of them are on display currently.
Under the guidance of Scottish conservation expert James Simpson, the authorities are modernising all the existing nine galleries with climate control features. To create more space, administrative and accounts departments have been moved out from the main building.
“We would turn it into a museum completely. We don’t want to waste the prime space. Victoria Memorial will be a unique combination of heritage, beautiful architecture and museum,” the curator said.
Thrown open to the public in 1921, Victoria Memorial was designed by famous British architect Sir William Emerson and conceived by Lord Curzon after the death of Queen Victoria. The marble edifice is an iconic landmark and a major tourist attraction of Kolkata.
The museum will mark highlights of its collection to attract visitors and tourists from outside the city. “We will tell visitors that if you have one hour to spend at the museum, these are the 150 objects that you must not miss,” Sengupta said.
Being executed by the National Buildings Construction Corporation, the Union Ministry of Culture is funding Victoria’s make-over plan. It will celebrate its centenary in 2021 and the entire renovation programme is scheduled to be completed by March 2017.
Storage space will also be expanded while the oil-painting restoration unit will be upgraded into a state-of-the-art-facility.