As one enters the beautiful Sayaji garden (in Vadodara), an equestrian statue of Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III leads you towards the Baroda Museum and Picture gallery. Founded in 1887 by Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III, the Museum opened its doors to the public in 1894, while the Picture gallery became accessible by 1921.
Institutions like the M.S University (one of the largest Universities in Gujarat that houses a Fine Arts and Performing arts Institute); the Baroda Museum, The Oriental Institute, and the iconic Laxmi Vilas Palace – all bear testimony to the Maharaja’s vision for the city of Baroda as a true cultural centre.
Maharaja Sayajiro Gaekwad III is known to have spent a lot of time travelling internationally and collected most pieces either himself or entrusted various scholars with the task.
The Picture Gallery was born during the most difficult time in the world history – at the beginning of World War I.
As the War broke out, the collection that was to reach Baroda, was temporarily stored in London and exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum. In 1921 the treasures finally reached their destination. The diverse, multipurpose collection ranges from Graeco-Roman art, to European, Tibet- Nepalese art to Egypt- Babylonian art, pre and protohistoric art, Chinese art, Islamic art, Ethnographic to modern Indian pictures; and can be attributed to the efforts of the Maharaja.
So what are European Masters like Peter Paul Rubens, John Constable, Gustave Courbet doing in the small historic city of Baroda?
The Picture gallery was a part of the Maharaja’s extensive scheme for giving his people the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the art of western civilization. His purpose was educational – to provide students and lovers of art in Baroda with a pictorial chart of the rise and development of painting in the chief countries of Europe for careful study, not imitation. He gave this special task of collecting to a London based art critic named Spielmann that he admired for his sense of aesthetics. The gallery houses European paintings ranging from the 15th century to the 19th century.
The collection of European oil paintings in the Baroda Museum contains rare and unique originals from old masters like Veronese, Giordano, Rubens, William Hogarth, John Constable, Nicolas Poussin, Fragonard, Millet, Courbet. A small work on panel from the late Byzantine can also be seen.
Interestingly, the interiors of the Picture Gallery has high resemblance to a 15th Century painting, by a Flemish school artist Franz Fracken the III, titled “Picture Gallery of Doria Palace”.
The building generally follows a traditional local Maratha style architecture of wooden framework, whilst European influence can be seen through a wall decorated with plaster copy of Parthenon frieze. Intricate jaali work in stone embodies the Mughal forms.
The architecture, the landscape setting, the salon style display of European paintings, to some may strike as old fashioned or as an endearing legacy to others. At a time when architectural styles are changing rapidly, the presence of such spaces retain an experience that passes beyond the nostalgic lens. It lends an opportunity to document the transition of museum spaces from the 1800’s to present. In that sense the museum provides a unique and enriching experience.
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