Durbar Room in Osborne House


Fri 16th April 2021 

Review of Bringing India to Britain: Queen Victoria’s Indian Portraits and the Durbar Hall

with Helen Rufus Ward and Geraldine Alexander

The lecture was in two parts. The first dealt with the Colonial and Indian Exhibition of 1886 where the Indian Palaces took pride of place: the jewel in the crown in terms of the British Empire. Queen Victoria loved this exhibition visiting several times, in particular the section which showed the work of Indian craftsmen – silk weaving, wood carving and even snake charming!

The Queen commissioned the artist Rudolf Swoboda to paint portraits of these artisan workers. He was sent to India to continue this commission which included princes and army officers as well as some women of note.  These portraits, many quite small and done in a single sitting, can now be viewed at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight where they fill the corridors leading to the main dining rooms recreated in the style of the Durbar Hall from the 1886 Exhibition.

The second part dealt with the story behind the Durbar Hall. The whole of this exhibit was purchased by Lord and Lady Brassey to house their vast collection of artefacts collected from around the world. Initially built as an extension to their house in Park Lane, London it was later bequeathed to the town of Hastings (1918). The Durbar Hall weathered many challenges over the following decades, from its re-housing, to changing public perceptions.  Innovative re-programming, later bolstered by better access facilities enhanced its scope as a venue and showcase.  This wonderful Hall with its intricate carved panels, its lattice work, decorative staircase and cabinets of craft work from the exhibition, can be experienced first-hand at Hastings Museum and Art Gallery.

Both lectures provided a fascinating amount of detail and were well received by the audience.


Helena Birch