The Colonial and Indian Exhibition, London, 1886

Following on from our last blog post about The Maori Collection, Josiah Martin’s photographs of Maori culture and the New Zealand landscape were exhibited at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition, where he won a medal. It’s an incredibly interesting event, and seems particularly relevant as we head into the madness of autumn art fairs in London. The exhibiting of art, design, services and one-off pieces is by no means new, and is a well-established tradition within the art world.

The exhibition, organised by the Prince of Wales who assumed Presidency of the Royal Commission, opened on the 4th May 1886 in South Kensington in London. It lasted 6 months (a bit longer than art fairs today!) and welcomed a whopping 5.5 million visitors over this period. People flocked from all over the world to come and view the wonders of Imperial production.

‘India’ took up roughly one third of the exhibition space in 1886 – and their section cost a monumental £22,000 – 5 times more than the Indian Pavilion at the 1851 Great Exhibition. £10,000 was donated by the Indian Government, but otherwise funds had to be raised by the Royal Commission in addition to rich Indian Princes donating goods for display.

The exhibits were largely based on traditional crafts from India, coinciding with the ‘arts and crafts’ movement in the UK and a romantic perception of artisan techniques. They displayed architecture, art, silks and crafts – a huge range of products and skills.

In particular, the gateway to the Indian section was extremely popular –  the Jaipur Gate, paid for by the Maharaja of Jaipur, has stood in the grounds of the Hove Museum and Art Gallery since 1926. The display of ‘native artisans’, thirty-four men from Agra demonstrating various crafts and professions, from sweetmeat maker to potter to carpet weaver, were actually inmates from Agra Jail. They were all invited to a reception at Windsor Castle to meet Queen Victoria in July 1886.

The Jaipur Gate, at the Indian and Colonial Exhibition, 1886
The Jaipur Gate today at Hove Museum

An introduction to the Art Journal supplement devoted to the exhibition explained, that these Indian displays must:

“occasion to us and to all true lovers of their country a sense of joy and gratitude for what has been done by these, our far-off children, in the near past, and a glad anticipation of the triumphs in store for them and for us in the not distant future” 

In addition to India, many other countries were represented at the Exhibition, such as: Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Figi, South Africa and the ‘Cape of Good Hope’, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Mauritius, Hong Kong, the Caribbean Islands such as Jamaica and Trinidad, West Affrican territories such as the Gambia, Gold Coast and Lagos – the list goes on! You can imagine that it was a hugely diverse and fascinating spectacle for Londoners, no wonder so many people came to visit!

About 5000 of the Indian & Colonial Exhibition medals were struck. They were engraved by Leonard Wyon and minted in Birmingham by Heaton’s who charged £145 per 1000 medals. The medals were presented with a diploma to each person who took part in the Indian and Colonial exhibition, such as Josiah Martin, photgrapher from Auckland, New Zealand.

Indian and Colonial Exhibition Coin Medal, 1886

At Nicholas Wells Antiques…

In addition to our Maori Collection, we have selected some wonderful pieces that represent the cross-pollination of stylistic design from the interaction of Britain with, what was, Imperial and Colonial territories.

Colonial and Indian
Anglo Indian Horn Sandalwood Work Box
Colonial and Indian
Set of Four Bone Inlaid Indian Armchairs
Colonial and Indian
Pair Anglo Indian Circular Calamander Lamp Tables
Colonial and Indian
White Painted Indian Antique Console Table
Colonial and Indian
Indian Art Nouveau Music Room Table – Calcutta School
Colonial and Indian
Porcupine Quill Box with tray
Colonial and Indian
Pair Of Ceylonese Solid Ebony Armchairs
Colonial and Indian
Ebonised Anglo Indian High Back Chair
Colonial and Indian
New Zealand Whalebone ‘Kotiate’ Club
Colonial and Indian
Tribal Kanak Bird Head Club, New Caledonia

Alexandra Kate