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Splendours of India come to New Walk Museum

Published on Wednesday, July 5, 2017

SOME of the finest South Asian treasures from the Royal Collection will go on display at Leicester’s New Walk Museum & Art Gallery from Saturday (8 July).

The items – including photographs, watercolours and exquisite works of art – tell the story of the grand tour of the subcontinent made by the Prince of Wales (who later became King Edward VII) in 1875-76.

Visitors will be able to see some stunning works of art, including a dazzling turban ornament – or ‘sarpech’ – decorated with emeralds and diamonds, and an exquisite enamelled gold inkstand, inlaid with diamonds, rubies and sapphires.

Other items include a gold durbar set, comprising plates, trays and spice boxes, a spectacular enamelled gold plate, and a pair of peacock feather fans with enamelled gold handles and inlaid with diamonds.

There is also a set of small brass military figures, presented to the Prince during his visit to Madras in South India, and an ingeniously-designed dagger with pearls set in its steel blade.

The 74 works of art on display were presented to the Prince as he visited more than 20 localities – encompassing what we know today as India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Nepal – in a four-month tour designed to strengthen ties between the subcontinent and the British Crown.

Many of the gifts presented to the Prince of Wales went on show soon after his return to the UK, with the collection going on display in cities including Edinburgh, York and Nottingham. But, despite a letter to the local paper in 1882, asking if it could also be shown in Leicester, the Prince of Wales’ India Collection did not visit Leicester at the time. Now, more than 100 years later, the extraordinary works of art will finally go on display at Leicester’s New Walk Museum.

Jonathan Marsden, Director, Royal Collection Trust, said: “We are delighted to work with the New Walk Museum & Art Gallery to exhibit these very important items from the Royal Collection and celebrate the common heritage of the UK and the subcontinent. We hope that people from Leicester and around the UK will visit this exhibition to enjoy these magnificent objects, as so many did when they were first shown in this country in the 19th century.”

Visitors to Splendours of the Subcontinent: A Prince’s Tour 1875-6 will be amongst the first to use New Walk Museum’s brand new spiral staircase – inspired by the shape of a fossilised ammonite – which has transformed the entrance to the museum. A lift for visitors has also been installed as part of the scheme.

Assistant city mayor for culture Cllr Piara Singh Clair said: “I’m very proud that our refurbished entrance to New Walk Museum is ready to welcome the thousands of people who will want to see this important new exhibition.

“This is an exciting opportunity to see some extraordinary items from the Royal Collection which – before this year – hadn’t been on public display as a group for more than 100 years.

“Not only are these objects beautiful and fascinating, but they have an important story to tell about Britain and its longstanding relationship with the subcontinent. I am sure that people from within our diverse city and from further afield will find much to inspire them in this stunning new exhibition.”

Admission to Splendours of the Subcontinent: A Prince’s Tour 1875-6 is free of charge and the exhibition continues at New Walk Museum until Sunday 29 October 2017.

Splendours of the Subcontinent: A Prince's Tour 1875–6 has been developed by the Royal Collection Trust in collaboration with Cartwright Hall in Bradford and New Walk Museum in Leicester.

The exhibition coincides with the 70th anniversary of the independence of India and Pakistan. Further perspectives added for the Leicester show are designed to help visitors explore the political context for the Prince’s tour and how a contemporary audience might view it in 2017.

It also forms part of the 2017 UK-India Year of Culture – a year-long programme of events led by the British Council, in cooperation with the Indian High Commission, that celebrates the long-standing relationship between the UK and India and the vibrant cultural history of the region.

Splendours of the Subcontinent: A Prince's Tour 1875–6 started its tour in Bradford in March. Later this year – from 15 December – it will go on display at The Queen's Gallery at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, before opening in The Queen's Gallery at Buckingham Palace in London next year.