Victoria Memorial, Kolkata– a white Marble Marvel – was built in 1921 in honour of Queen Victoria – the British Monarch of the United Kingdom and Ireland from 20 June 1837 and Empress of India from May 1876 and ruled for almost 64 years. Queen Victoria was the daughter of the Duke of Kent & Strathearn – Prince Edward and granddaughter of King George III.
The Victoria Memorial is a classic showcase of the fusion of British and Mughal Architecture. Positioned at 22.5449°N 88.3425°E, Victoria Memorial was built on 64 acres of land on Queen’s Way in Kolkata – the Capital of West Bengal State of India. Currently, the Memorial is an autonomous organization within the Ministry of Culture of Indian Government and serves as a museum – the largest repository of visual history of Calcutta (Kolkata) in India and British memorabilia.
Intended to serve as a Memorial to dedicate to Queen Victoria and also as a tribute to the success of the British Empire in India – the Victoria Memorial was the brainchild of Lord George Nathaniel Curzon – Viceroy of India and Foreign Secretary.
The foundation stone of the memorial was laid in 1906 by the Welsh Prince – King George V and the construction of the building was completed about 15 years later. This awe-inspiring and colossal structure stands enclosed by 64 acres of Mughal Gardens. The memorial was designed by Sir William Emerson – President of Royal Institute of British Architects and the Mughal Gardens were designed by Lord Redesdale and Sir David Prain – a Scottish Botanist. The construction of the Memorial was done by Messrs. Martin & Co. of Calcutta and the cost of construction of this Memorial was borne entirely by the Indian States under British rule and Indian individuals and not any of the British government.
Victoria Memorial Hall stands 338 feet by 228 feet and rises to 184 feet and is made completely of Makrana Marble. The great dome, clustered with four subsidiary, octagonal domed ‘chattris’, the high portals, the terrace, and the domed corner towers – resemble the architecture of the Taj Mahal.
The Central Hall of the Memorial has a large marble statue of the young Queen which was sculpted by Sir Thomas Brock who also sculpted the vast multi-figure – the Victoria Memorial that currently stands tall in front of the Buckingham Palace in London. Scenes from the life of the Queen were depicted in paintings by Frank Salisbury in the Central Hall.
A large bronze statue of the Queen Empress Victoria seated on her throne in her ‘Star of India’ robe – sculpted by the British Sculptor - Sir George James Frampton, has been erected in the middle of the beautiful garden grounds, on the way to the North Gate. A sixteen foot tall bronze winged-statue – the ‘Angel of Victory’, which is mounted on ball bearings and rotates with the wind, and weighs 3 tons, is set atop the dome of Victoria Memorial. Its architectural fine-points exude a strong blend of English civic baroque architecture of the period, specifically the Belfast City Hall. The Victoria Memorial outwardly appears as a cross between the Taj Mahal, and the Mysore Maharaja Palace.
Statues of various dignitaries like Lord Bentinck, Governor- General of India (1828–1835); Lord Ripon (Governor- General of India from 1880 to 1884); the statue of Sir Rajendranath Mukherjee, the pioneer industrialist of Bengal have been placed on the eastern side of the Memorial.
The Victoria Memorial is currently a large Museum that houses a massive collection of memorabilia pertaining to Queen Victoria and the British reign in India. Post India’s Independence in 1947, the additions made to the collections in the Museum were grouped under the ‘National Leader’s Gallery which consisted of portraits and relics pertaining to Independence of India. Also on display are a sizeable collection of British Raj paintings, weapons, sculptures, paintings, artifacts, textiles, maps, coins and stamps.
The Memorial also houses a Royal Gallery showcasing several portraits of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Russian Artist Vasseli Verestchagin’s masterpiece – a highly intricate and very accurate painting of the Prince of Wales’ State entry into Jaipur in 1876 is one of the key features of the museum.
Oil paintings depicting scenes of Queen Victoria receiving the sacrament at her coronation in the Westminster Abbey in June 1838; her marriage with Prince Albert (1840) in the Chapel Royal at St. James' Palace; the christening of the Prince of Wales in St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle (1842); marriage of the Prince of Wales (Edward VII) with Princess Alexandra (1863) ; Queen Victoria at the first Jubilee service in Westminster Abbey in 1887 and the Second Jubilee service of Queen Victoria at St. Paul's Cathedral, June 1897 are some of the classic works of art on display in the Royal Gallery. In the centre of the room, are placed the pianoforte on which Queen Victoria received tuition in her childhood and her writing desk and chair.
Paintings of European Artists - Charles D’oyly, Johann Zoffany, William Hadges, William Simpson, Tilly Kettle, Thomas Hickey, Emily Eden and Thomas Daniell’s constitute a big section of the Museum. World’s largest collection of Daniell’s – his initial views of Calcutta have been captured by him in ‘the 12 coloured aquatints’.
The Throne of Nawab of Bengal; a chair made of Ivory and gifted to Warren Hastings’ wife; pistols belonging to Warren Hastings; Medals given to Prince Dwarakanath Tagore by Queen Victoria; an Ink pot used by Pandit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar are some on the historical relics on display.
Imported from Italy are the Statues of Architecture, Motherhood, Justice, Learning, Charity, Prudence and Art which are on display here.
Sword and Dagger of Tipu Sultan; Dagger of Nawaz Nazim of Bengal, Gun Powder Flask (Burruddan) made of mother of pearl and belonging to Nawaz Wazir Mahmood Khan Bahadur; Sir Collin Campbell’s sword with an ivory hilt are some of the armours on display.
‘Akbar Namah’ in two volumes; Ain-e-Akbari by Abdul Fazal (the court historian of the Emperor of Akbar); a manuscript of Diwan Hafiz; or the Ghazals of Hafiz; Tipu Sultan’s handwritten note book; a volume of copies of Tipu Sultan’s letters; ‘Shah Namah’ - the famous epic containing the history of the ancient Kings of Persia penned by Firdausi in 999 AD; the Persian translation of ‘Nala Damayanti’ by Abdul Fazal are some of the famous manuscripts on display in the Memorial.
Dating back to the 1870s, are few rare books in the Library of the Memorial which comprise the collection of plays by William Shakespeare; The Arabian Nights; Rubaiyat's Omar Khayyam etc. Exotically illustrated, these books are referred by costume designers while designing for Shakespearian plays in Kolkata.A sizeable number of Mughal miniatures are also on display here.
As eventide descends on Calcutta, the Victoria Memorial Hall is illuminated – highlighting the grandiose architecture, giving it a fairy tale appearance and is visible from afar. And special Son-et-Lumiere (sound-and-light) shows are held in the Park regularly for which thousands throng. A very well-maintained Heritage Building of Kolkata, the Victoria Memorial is one of the top tourist attractions of the State of West Bengal.
The Various Departments of the office of Victoria Memorial are:
1. Eastern Regional Centre for Restoration of Paintings and other objects of art of non-Indian origin: the department has been developed in 1990 in the Victoria Memorial Hall under the Scheme of Ministry of Culture of Government of India. This unit provides assistance to various Government/ Semi - Government/ autonomous Institutions in Eastern India to maintain, clean and restore their paintings etc. in its Laboratory. The E.R.C.R. also provides on-site advice on the management and conservation of the paintings.
2. Restoration Unit: Since its inception, the Victoria Memorial was the first institution in India to develop an oil- painting restoration unit which is equipped with the necessary infrastructure and trained manpower that is required to attend to the Memorial's old and impressive collection of oil paintings.
3. Photography: It is a full-fledged photography unit with the essential equipment and infrastructure for photography, developing and printing in Colour and in Black and White and also has microfilming facilities.
4. Documentation: This division documents, catalogues, maintains and manages the records of the location and movement of the Memorial's entire collection of artifacts and also handles queries on Memorial's collection of art works - from India and abroad.
5. Conservation: Conservation of the objects of art on paper and book binding was handled by this department which was developed in the sixties.
6. Library: Houses Indo- British Arts and History related to 18th and 19th century.
7. Security: Consisting of 52 security personnel, the security unit along with Kolkata Police Department guards the Victoria Memorial. Surveillance is handled by an additional 46 security personnel.
8. Administration and Accounts: The Curator is the Memorial's Administrative Chief and an Accounts Officer heads the Accounts Department.
The Memorial regularly hosts events such as Seminars on ‘The Authenticity of Museum Artifacts’; Seminar on ‘Aspects of Care and Management of Museum Collection’; Screening of Documentary Films; Exhibitions of photographs of Mother Teresa; Paintings of Mother Teresa; Discussions on ‘Empowerment of Women’; Conferences for the ‘Conservation of Cultural Property’; Conferences on Conservation of Modern and Contemporary Paintings; Lectures on Literature; Symposium on ‘Reinventing Crafts for the 21st Century’; Lectures on Aesthetics in Indian Heritage Sculptures; Lectures on Conservation of Culture; Planting of saplings in the Gardens on World Environment Day; Discussions on Museum and Social Harmony on occasion of the International Museum Day; Seminar on ‘Historical development in the methods and materials of the paintings’; Talks on ‘Marketing of Cultural Institutions’; Children Art Competitions; Events celebrating ‘Earth Day’ in the Memorial among a portfolio of others where the city’s erudite and intellectuals and culture conservationists converge to contribute towards conserving India and Bengal’s rich cultural heritage.