Thomas Holbein HendleyAlbert Hall Museum Jaipur



A remarkable individual attached to the Jaipur Durbar in the 19th Century was Dr. Thomas Holbein Hendley the Resident Surgeon, who in addition to his medical responsibilities, dedicated himself with enthusiasm and vision to a range of activities from meteorology to establishing an industrial arts museum in Jaipur. Hendley's passion was the preservation and revival of traditional crafts which would also secure the artisans by generating lucrative employment. Towards this end, he put his energies behind the development of a School of Art in 1866 to provide technical education to artisans.

“The more we can increase domestic knowledge by establishing really practical educational museums and technical schools… the more we shall elevate the people…”

The School of Art continues at Kishanpole Bazar to this day as the Rajasthan School of Art and provides skills in fine arts.

In 1880 his proposal to set up a Museum of Industrial Arts was approved by the Council of the Maharaja Madho Singh II. The purpose was to display not only the local handicrafts but also the best artifacts available from different parts of  India and beyond with a view to “present the craftsmen selected examples of the best artwork of India in the hope that they would profit thereby”. He was equally anxious to ensure that the traditional art did not suffer any modification on account of Western influences or techniques.

Initially, the museum was put up in temporary accommodation in 1881. Distinguished individuals across India were asked to acquire artifacts while some were purchased from Jaipur's artisans. Members of the museum staff were sent on forays outside Rajputana to collect textiles, jewellery and brassware and these were meticulously recorded in registers to be later published as museum catalogues.

In furtherance of these objectives, he launched yet another project, the Jaipur Exhibition in 1883 in the new administrative building, built by Swinton Jacob, the Director of Jaipur State, PWD, the Naya Mahal (former Vidhan Sabha building at Jaleb Chowk) Hendley became the curator of the exhibition. Exhibits came from India's neighbourhood too, including Burmese and Persian artifacts, textiles, furniture, arms and armour, calligraphy and paintings, leather work, rugs, brass ware, stone carving, blue pottery and lacquer work. Based on the models of the South Kensington Museum, show cases were designed at Winbridge of Bombay for the display of artifacts. This was followed by publication of the Memorials of the Jaipur Exhibition describing and illustrating in detail through photographs and lithographs prepared by the School of Arts. The Maharaja, who financed these projects, was justifiably proud of the achievements and despatched copies to museums, libraries and personalities around the world.

These worthy activities attracted attention in London and the exhibition of 1883 was invited to contribute to the Indo-Colonial Exhibition held in London in 1886. Hendley had observed that niches at the Amber Palace showed outlines of shapes of varied vessels. These became the inspiration for the School of Arts to create vessels of such shapes anew for the London Exhibition.

Hendley’s dream of finding a permanent abode for all the exhibits were finally realized with the completion of the magnificent Albert Hall in 1887 and the decision to move both the temporary museum and the artifacts of the exhibition to this new permanent museum. The artifacts listed in Hendley’s catalogues published in 1896 run to over 19000.

But this was not all. The architectural style of Albert Hall and the building itself became part of the display. Its Indo-Saracenic design and stone ornamentation were intended to serve as a source of instruction in varied classical Indian styles from Mughal to Rajput. Swinton Jacob the architect remarked: “The endeavour has been to make the walls themselves a museum, by taking advantage of many of the beautiful designs in old buildings near Delhi, Agra and elsewhere...”. And finally even the corridors became a part of the instructive display. The splendid murals that were made to adorn them representing Indian civilization by portraying the Ramayan from Indo-Persian paintings in Mughal manuscripts contrasted with works of art from European, Egyptian, Chinese, Greek and Babylonian civilizations portrayed in the other murals to enable people of the region to compare them with their own and develop their knowledge of the world.

However Hendley's zeal to preserve the traditional crafts was still not appeased. He was fascinated by the art of Koft-Kari, inlaying gold and silver wire in steel weaponry. He was convinced that the surviving art of 'damascening' had its finest skilled craftsmen in Jaipur. He feared that European influences would corrupt the art through processes such as electro-gilding. He published a book on damascening to show the best examples of the art in the hope that the craft did not suffer. Furthermore, the art of enameling obsessed him as he believed that the art in Jaipur was far superior to anything not only in India but also Europe and Persia: “The Jaipur artist alone succeeds in giving it a transparent lustre”. A book was published in 1886 showing masterpieces from as far back as the sixteenth century with lithographs by Griggs of London in the hope that any decline in the art would be arrested.

Even in retirement Hendley published his last book on the magnificent antique carpets in the royal collection. His hope was to revive the craft of carpet making. The book “Asian Carpets” with 150 colour plates from drawings made by Jaipur artists was published by Griggs of London.

In 1890, under the patronage of the Maharaja, six volumes of the Jaipur portfolio were published to encourage in architecture what he hoped the museum would have done for the crafts. These showed drawings of plinths, columns, carved doors, brackets, arches, and balustrades, documenting every major Mughal and Rajput building part by part. Between 1894 and 1913, six more volumes of the portfolio were published showing features like chattris, jharokas etc.

In 1898, on the eve of his departure Hendley wrote to the Durbar (than ruler of Jaipur) that on average the annual attendance exceeded a quarter million people and in eleven years there were more than three million visitors to the gas lit galleries of the museum. He acknowledged the generous financial help of the Durbar for the cost of the exhibits acquired, the construction of the show cases and salary of staff amounting to rupees 2,28,000.

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Last Updated on 15 - 09 - 2018

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