John Forbes Watson’s devastating catalogue of Indian textiles

‘It must not be thought that the Taste of India takes delight in what is gaudy or glaring…such combinations of form and colour as many of these specimens exhibit, everyone will call beautiful, and that beauty has one constant feature — a quietness andharmony which never fail to fascinate…’The unexpected author of these admiring sentiments was John Forbes Watson, a botanist-physician who was appointed director of the India Museum, London, in 1858. The specimens in question were not paintings or sculptures, but yards and yards of fabric. Watson was part of a group of Victorians such as George Birdwood and Owen Jones who admired Indian textiles, especially for their harmonious use of design and colour. His 18-volume series, The Collections of the Textile Manufactures of India, remains an enduring testament to the diversity and originality of Indian textiles, yet it set in motion a chain of events that would eventually threaten their very existence. In the run-up to National Handloom Day on August 7, it is fitting, perhaps perversely, to consider a man, a collection and a legacy that played a vital role in catalysing India’s Swadeshi movement.700 samplesColonial catalogues of the 19th century have provided us with significant historical… Read full this story

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