Category Archives: British Empire

Artist and Empire at Tate Britain, London

Ruxshir, Potter of Agra 100 years old
Ruxshir, Potter of Agra 100 years old

What a fantastic, shaming, inspiring, huge exhibition.  So much to read; so much to think about.

At school in the 1940s and 50s, we had a pageant every Empire Day, May 24th – Queen Victoria’s Birthday. We celebrated the amount of pink colouring on our map of the world showing which countries or states were under British Rule, and we repeated that The Sun Never Sets on the British Empire. The prettiest girl would be Britannia, symbol of British values, complete with Neptune’s trident, lion and British Union Jack flag, while the rest of us would be dressed in various ‘native’ costumes and sing Rule Britannia  confirming that Britain rules the waves (hence the trident) and that we never never shall be slaves – though we did jolly well out of the slave trade in its heyday. Rebadged in1958 as Commonwealth DayEmpire Day was changed in 1977 to the second Monday in March.

The iconic portrait by the Austin artist Rodolf Swoboda shown in the Tate Britain poster was one of three portraits commissioned by Queen Victoria.  Though exhibited at the Indian and Colonial Exhibition in London in 1886 as ‘Genuine Artists’,  they are of prisoners in Agra gaol who were being rehabilitated by training in a variety of handicrafts. Ramlal, a 9-year old boy, (and what crime could a 9-year old have committed?) was a carpet weaver while Mohammed Hosein was a 26-year old coppersmith.

Paintings, photographs, cartoons, banners, sculptures, Benin bronzes and wood carvings – a lot to take in during one visit.