India Office: prints, drawings and paintings

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The British Library holds one of the world’s richest archives of prints and drawings from South Asia.

About the collection

The British Library holds one of the world’s richest archives of prints and drawings from South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma, Nepal and Bhutan), and from neighbouring countries and areas in parts of Asia with which the East India Company and British Government of India had dealings, principally Iran, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Tibet, Central Asia, and the different countries of Southeast Asia and China.

Collecting of these unique holdings dates back to 1801, when the British East India Company established a library in London; the collections were subsequently held in the India Office, although acquisitions continue to be made.

One of the first purchases for the collections was Richard Johnson’s collection of 16 18th century Indian miniatures in 1807. These were quickly supplemented by official or quasi-official collections of British drawings, such as the original sketches by William Alexander on his journey to China with Lord Macartney's embassy in 1792-94, and of natural history drawings, such as the Marquess Wellesley Collection purchased in 1866. Other sets of drawings were continually being presented. Natural history drawings and Company drawings (drawings by Indian artists for British patrons) form the bulk of the drawings by Indian artists. There is also an important collection of popular and folk paintings of the 19th and 20th centuries. A collection of loose prints, particularly of portraits and topographical views, supplements the Library's plate books.

What is available online?

Prints and drawings can be found on the India Office Select Materials catalogue. Please note that this catalogue will be decommissioned in Winter 2015 and integrated with the Archives and Manuscripts catalogue.

A selection of prints and drawings from the India Office collections have been digitised and can be viewed on the Online Gallery and Digitised Manuscripts

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

Prints, drawings and paintings from the India Office collections can be viewed in the Print Room, located in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room. Viewing is by appointment only, Monday to Friday. For appointment details, please email apac-prints@bl.uk.

Further information

An extensive collection of reference works about these collections is available on open access in the Asian & African Studies Reading Rooms. Key publications include:

Art of the Book in India, by J.P. Losty (London, 1982)

British drawings in the India Office Library, by Mildred Archer (London, 1969). 2 vols.

British drawings in the India Office Library Volume III, by Patricia Kattenhorn (London, 1994).

Company drawings in the India Office Library, by Mildred Archer (London, 1972).

Indian miniatures in the India Office Library, by Toby Falk and Mildred Archer (London, 1981).

Indian popular painting in the India Office Library, by Mildred Archer (London, 1977).

Miniatures from Persian manuscripts in the British Library and British Museum, by N.M. Titley (London, 1977).

Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire, by J.P. Losty and M. Roy (London, 2012)

Natural history drawings in the India Office Library, by Mildred Archer (London, 1962).

Persian paintings in the India Office Library, by B.W. Robinson (London, 1976).

Prints of South East Asia in the India Office Library, by Pauline Rohatgi and John Bastin (London, 1979).

Raffles’ Ark redrawn: Natural history drawings from the collection of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, by H.J. Noltie (London, 2009).

The Raffles drawings in the India Office Library, by Mildred Archer and John Bastin (Oxford, 1979).

How to guides

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