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Paintings of The Opium Trade – India, 1850s

August 08, 2014 1 min read

I would certainly never have known the in-depth history of any region so far removed from my geo-location, were it not for the art that carries within it stories from beyond.

A glimpse into the world of Opium Trade of Patna, 1850s, through Company School Paintings created in Gouache on Mica.

1913251_10152272885661675_183024349_oReceipt of Raw Opium

1797994_10152271386386675_1290734033_nWeighing the Opium

1958341_10152273569331675_47213535_nBalling and putting into brass cups

1970754_10152272887711675_1036438761_nOpium being mixed in a large, square wooden vat.


10006007_10152273573241675_1272091260_oTesting for purity

1888768_10152269097346675_420276679_oThe Mixing Room, Opium Factory


1913513_10152269105516675_1814957168_oThe Stacking Room

 1966159_10152269090811675_1512438938_oThe Examination Room

10003854_10152269104141675_91517904_oThe Drying Room

1009998_10152273558456675_1271331578_nOpium being made ready for despatch

1795936_10152273603526675_1146526372_oPots put into baskets and labelled

1798808_10152273610666675_791281458_nTwo workers are shown carrying an opium crate away.

These Company Paintings (a painting made by an Indian artist for the British in India) is done on mica (talc) and comes from a series of nineteen illustrating processes in the manufacture of opium at the opium factory at Gulzarbagh in Patna, Bihar. According to the artist Ishwari Prasad, his grandfather, Shiva Lal (c.1817-1887), began to make the designs for these paintings in 1857. They were commissioned by Dr D. R. Lyall (the personal assistant in charge of opium-making) for a series of wall paintings in the Gulzarbagh factory. However, Lyall was killed in 1857, during the so-called Indian Mutiny, and the scheme was abandoned.

All pictures courtesy “Rare Book Society of India”

“The Truth about Indian Opium”
By G. Graham Dixon
Published H.M. Stationery Office, London – 1922

Copyright: © V&A Images


jaina mishra

Aug 2014

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