(Last Updated on : 21/11/2014)
The Madras Literary Society debated the proposal for a museum in Madras in 1846 AD and Sir Henry Pottinger, the then Governor, obtained the approval of the Court of Directors of the East India Company
in London. Government Museum, Chennai
is a multi-purpose State Government Museum, which is the heart of the city, spreading to an area of 16.25 acres of land. Six independent buildings in this Museum campus have 46 galleries. In January 1851 AD, Dr. Edward Balfour, Medical Officer of the Governor's Body guard was appointed as the First Officer in charge of the Government Museum. The notice in the Fort St. George Gazetteer dated 29th Aprtil 1851 AD contained the first announcement regarding the opening of the Madras Government Museum. The Government Museum otherwise called as the Central Museum was started in the College of Fort St. George, in the premises of the present office of the Director of Public Instruction, on College Road. The Museum was started in the first floor of the college with the 1100 geological specimens of the Madras Literary Society. It gradually developed and expanded under the guidance and administration of a series of directors.
As the building was in a decaying condition the Museum's Superintendent Dr. Balfour advocated shifting it to another building. In December 1854 AD, it was shifted to a building named the Pantheon, also known as the Public Rooms or Assembly Rooms, where the influential people of the city met.
The building was being utilised for banquets, balls and theatrical performances from the last decade of the 18th Century. The land of the Pantheon was the property of Hall Plumer, civil servant and public works contractor who subsequently, in 1793 AD, assigned the grounds to a Committee of 24, which regulated the public amusements in the city at that time. The property was originally 43 acres in extent and stretched from Casa Major Road to the present Police Commissioner's Road, and the Pantheon Road and Halls Road flanked it. It was formally opened on December 5, 1896 AD by Sir Arthur Elibank Havelock, the then Governor and named after its progenitor, Lord Connemara, Governor of Madras. H.Irvin the Consulting Architect to the Government of Madras designed the Museum it had a magnificent hall with a marvelous reading room and beautiful teak wood shelf.
Libraries controlled by different bodies, which were in need of space, were invited to engage some portion of the Connemara Library.
The Madras Literary Society Library was the first to function inside the Connemara Library until it was shifted in 1905 AD to its present building on College Road. The Madras University Library occupied the space vacated by the Madras Literary Society Library and functioned there until 1928 AD when it moved to Chepauk. The Oriental Manuscripts Library which was also housed in the Connemara Library till 1935 AD, moved into the University Buildings at Chepauk. Books were purchased on behalf of the Victoria Technical Institute from the Dhanakoti Mudaliar donation and still housed in the Fine Arts Section of the Connemara Public Library. Later the library came under the control of the Director of Public Instruction.
The Chennai Museum has a good collection of paintings and sculptures, both traditional and modern. The traditional paintings of Tanjore
, Rajput, Moghul, Kangra, Deccani schools and modern paintings in Oil, Tempera, Water Colour, Graphics and Acrylic mediums. Graphics and modern style metal sculptures are also in the collections. Tanjore paintings depict the figures of Tanjore Maratha Kings and Queens and Puranic (mythological) scenes from Tamil Literature. Rajput paintings belong to 16th and 17th centuries AD. They illustrate the rhythm of love based on musical modes.
The court scene of Emperor Babur, portraits of Jehangir
, Shah Jehan
, animals and birds are the subject matter of Moghul paintings. The Kangra paintings represent Krishna legends as the main subject. There are twelve Portraits of British Governors and Governors-General
in the collections.
The Archaeology Section of the Museum is primarily concerned with the acquisition, preservation and display of antiquities of the historic periods of South India. The antiquities consist of sculptures, architectural pieces and inscriptions on metal and stone, which have a bearing on the past history and social life of the people of this part of India. A significant collection of objects representing the industrial arts such as wood carving, ivory work, metal ware and inlay and embossed works for which South India has been famous from very early times, is also dealt with by the Section.
The Madras Government Museum began as a Museum of Geology in 1851 AD. Its scope was soon extended to cover other fields such as Archaeology, Ethnology, Pre-history and Natural History. In 1878 AD, Surgeon General Dr.E.George Bidie, the then Superintendent of the Museum, made Ethnology as one of the subjects to be illustrated by Museum collections. The Government instructed all district authorities to render assistance to the Superintendent of the Museum in regard to Pre-historic Archaeology of the various districts. The collection of pottery, etc, from the ancient remains of the Nilgiris, known as Breek's Collection, reached the Museum in 1878 AD. Mr. Bruce Foote, the Father of Indian Pre-historic Archaeology, made his first discoveries of early man in the valley of the Corteliar river during this period and the Madras Museum received some of these finds as gifts.
The Chennai Museum has a collection of one thousand and two hundred objects including metal sculptures, paintings such as oil on canvas, tempera, water colour, textiles etc. Paintings of famous artists in India from various Art Schools are represented in the collection. The traditional paintings consist of Rajput, Moghul, Kangra, Tanjore, Deccan and South Indian School of Art. Bidriware
, Metalware, Ivory and Sandalwood objects are also in the collection. The modern paintings consist of works of well-known artists namely Raja Ravi Varma, D.P. Roy Chowdhury, Nandalal Bose, Jaimini Roy and artists from Tamil Nadu. The Government Museum, Chennai has a very rich collection of the ancient, medieval and modern Indian coins
made of gold, silver, copper, lead, potin and billon. Besides these there is a representative collection of foreign currency.
It is not possible to exhibit the coins in original to the public on grounds of safety. Therefore plaster cast and metal cast imitation of the coins are prepared and exhibited in the gallery. There are at present two hundred and fifty medals in the section, a greater part of which are exhibition medals, of very little interest. The rare pieces are the Mysore medals. The plaster casts of these medals are kept in the gallery with photographs. The Government of Chennai Museum is one of the beautiful Museums to watch and a treat for the eyes of the visitors.