Mapping Art Collecting and Circulation in British India: The Connoisseur and Dealer L. A. Waddell

Regina Höfer

Stele of Simhanada Lokeshvara, 11./12. cent. Bihar, Eastern India, I 576
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Asian Art Museum

Provenance research is about to become a major focus of museum work. It investigates where objects come from, how they were obtained, how they might have changed their function in the process of translocation and what this could mean.

This research project centres around the question of how art and cultural artefacts have been collected and distributed in colonial South Asia, Burma and Tibet and the ways these have reached Western collections. Therefore, the entangled infrastructure of archaeologists, collectors, British officials, dealers, museums and other colonial institutions needs close inspection. One of the most important protagonists is L. A. Waddell (1854-1938). The Asian Art Museum and the Museum of Ethnology in Berlin house his collection besides major British museums. As an Indian Army surgeon, amateur researcher and archaeologist stationed in British India, Waddell had first-hand access to local culture and countless opportunities to obtain artefacts: During his own archaeological excavation in the Swat Valley (1895) or several British military operations to Burma and Beijing (Boxer Rebellion) for example. Many of these were problematic from a contemporary point of view and included war booty. Studying this important protagonist will thus be crucial in mapping and understanding the entangled landscape of art connoisseurship, collection and trade in colonial South Asia.


This project is part of the Research and Fellowship Program Connecting Art Histories in the Museum, a joint project between the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz and the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.


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