Baroda Patronage: Sayajirao Gaekwad III as Patron of Art

in Article
Published on: 31 May 2018

Sandeep Joshi

Sandeep Joshi is a Baroda-based artist and art historian. He writes on art and architecture.

In art historical studies, patronage can be understood as the social relations of art production and consumption on the part of the artist and the person or an institution for whom or by the help of whom the work is done. A study of art patronage under Maharaja Sayajirao III of Baroda in a social and political context would become an economic, historical as well as art historical study. The study of the social dimension was made with the idea that when the factors which make up the social milieu change, inevitably the whole society undergoes a metamorphosis. Even in the arts which are closely linked with the social setup, the change is expected. While looking at Sayajirao III’s reformist activities one can easily understand his keen interest in education and can analyze him as a patron of education, libraries, literature and financial institutions. Besides all these reformist activities and visionary outlook, he was a patron of art, architecture and cultural activities like music and theatre. The entire shift in the pattern of patronage and taste from the late 19th century can be clearly seen in the art collecting of Sayajirao and his connoisseurship. Shifts in taste and patterns of patronage can conveniently be studied through an analysis of Sayajirao III as patron.


The 18th century was a period of turmoil, but it was from this period that Maratha elements became prominent in the cultural life of Baroda. The Gaekwad court was growing with its own cultural impact (Vadodara District Gazetteer 1979:709). The spirit of the rulers laid the foundations of different sporting activities such as wrestling, horse racing and elephant and buffalo fights. Many other forms of entertainment were becoming common in Baroda state and depictions of these activities are found in the paintings made for the royal court. Music, dance and paintings were also becoming areas of cultural interest. Aakhyanas and kirtanas by Manbhatt and Buvas were popular. Baroda had a rich tradition of classical music under the patronage of Khanderao and Sayajirao III, and master musicians such as Nasirkhan, Maulabaksh, Alladiya Khan etc. were invited so that classical music flourished in the Baroda Court. The School of Indian Classical Music was started in the year 1886 and Prof. Maulabaksh became its head during Sayajirao III’s reign. The All India Music Conference was held at Baroda in 1916. Well-known artists of Saurashtra and Gujarat along with north Indian and south Indian musicians were invited to attend the conference. Pandit Vadilal, Dayabhai Shivram, Khan Rehmatkhan, Faiz Mohammed Khan, Pandit Omkarnath Thakur, Pandit Bhatkhande, etc. participated in this conference. He gave patronage to the deserving musicians, and not only as court jewels, but by offering them the services of the state. He set up the school of music and employed eminent musicians like Ustad Faiyaz Khan and Maulabaksh to give free music lessons to the people of the state.[1]


In the field of drama, Baroda had special facilities in theatres and encouraged the performance of new dramas. The Gujarati Deshi Natak Samaj and Marathi Bal Gandharva Natak Mandali took advantage of Baroda patronage and presented many new plays in Baroda for the first time.


In the field of visual arts, Sayajirao invited many painters, sculptors and architects to the state services, not only for the sake of the Gaekwad court but for the state. Besides Gaekwad family portraits, many public works projects were assigned to these artists and architects for the beautification of the city as well as functional architecture. The Kalabhavan of Baroda was established for the purpose of providing technical education and offered courses in carpentry, calico printing, dyeing, drawing etc. Later photography and architecture were added. Sayajirao passed an order in March 1890:


The proposal of Mr Gajjar to start such an institution on the grant-in-aid principle has been considered and it is thought desirable on the whole that the experiment should be made as a state. It is accordingly directed that a Technical Institution should be opened at Baroda, where education of the hand and the eye would be attempted side by the side with that of the mind, and where instruction be imparted mainly through the vernacular. The scope of the institution should accordingly be restricted for the present to teaching drawing, as recommended by Mr Chisholm in his pamphlet, bleaching, dyeing, and printing and carpentry. The course of instruction should combine theory and practice so as to turn out a more skilful artisan than at present Baroda Administration Report, 1891).


The school of art included courses in landscape, portrait and design in mediums like oil and watercolour and offered diplomas following the pattern of J.J. School of Art. Sir T. Madhavrao, the dewan of Baroda, was the person behind the early art activities in Baroda, in that he encouraged M.C.T. Naidu and Hansaji Raghunath in Baroda court when Sayajirao was hardly 12. He also encouraged them to participate in the Fine Arts Exhibition of 1878 at Poona, and initiated the submission of their works stating that these are the works of ‘artists in the service of Baroda Court’ (Letter to the Secretary, Fine Arts Exhibition, Poona, 1878, reprinted in Apte 1936:881). Naidu and Hansaji Raghunath were both practising in the western academic realistic style of oil painting and very keen on achieving a likeness of the sitter, but were overshadowed by the fame of Ravi Varma. Many paintings probably made by them are also sometimes attributed to Ravi Varma.[2] But if we compare their paintings on technical and stylistic grounds, these two painters seem to be more skilful than Ravi Varma in the application of colour and anatomical study.


It has been observed that Baroda patronage and Sir T. Madhavrao played a great role in building up bright careers and were responsible for Raja Ravi Varma’s fame not only amongst the Maharajas of princely states, but also nobles, leading citizens and even middle class people. Madhavrao urged Ravi Varma to oleograph his oil paintings to achieve a wide reach. In his one of the letters in 1884, published by E.M.J. Venniyoor, he wrote:


There are many of my friends who are desirous of possessing your works. It would be hardly possible for you, with only a pair of hands, to meet such a large demand. Send, therefore, a few of your select works to Europe and have them oleographed. You will thereby not only extend your reputation, but will be doing a real service to the country.


This advice was not followed until the death of Madhavrao in 1892. After 1896, in response to the nationalist movement in Maharashtra, the Ravi Varma Press published oleographs of national heroes, Shivaji, Tilak and Ranade. Following the Baroda court’s patronage, other princely states commissioned large number of mythological paintings from him.[3]


Overall, the patronage of art and artists shows the shifting tastes in patronage and connoisseurship, that travelled through the European naturalism of Augusto Felici, a blend of Indian subjects and realism by Ravi Varma, F.N. Bose and Fyzee Rahmin, post-impressionist treatment in the paintings of Elizabeth Saas Brunner and her daughter Elizabeth Brunner, to Nandalal Bose’s visual language of painting (Kirtimandir murals, Baroda) with the idea of reviving the Indian painting tradition.


As a great patron and believer in education, Sayajirao encouraged education at every level. He had a great eye and a modern perspective in looking at art with a view to promoting educational activities. The purpose of the establishment of the museum (1894) was very clearly that of education. Sayajirao was conscious of the role of the museum in the field of higher education and the arts. The idea of developing the taste of fine arts, was expressed by Sayajirao in 1906–07. For this paintings and a sculpture gallery were also developed. Commenting on this ideal, M.H. Spielmann[4] says:


The illuminating idea that the collection should have for its prime purpose the educative motive for setting before students and lovers of art in Baroda, the rise and development of paintings in the major cities in Europe, for careful study, but not for imitation, since no national art can be improved by plagiarism (copying) of alien creative inspiration. (Goetz 1951:49)


The collection of the copies of masterpieces also becomes an important activity for visitors to the museums. The copy of The Death of St Peter Martyr after Titian is the only surviving copy, as its original in San Giovanni e Paolo in Venice was destroyed by fire in 1847. The only surviving replica of a portrait of Isabella de Valois, the queen of Philip II, also holds importance. The museum also boasts several original paintings like Reply to Sultan Mehmed IV of Ottoman by Iliya Repin of the Russian School, The Race for the Wealth of the English school by William Powell Frith, a series of five paintings narrating the tale of a swindler, represents the British narrative genre, and the sketchbooks of Romney, a highly accomplished artist. Thus, the collection of copies of masterpieces also became important.


Besides the European paintings, there are originals of Egyptian mummies, Far Eastern art, Tibetan Jewel pictures and Islamic and Himalayan collections. There are plaster casts of Roman, Greek and Renaissance art and a marble copy of Canova’s Three Graces and other sculptures. The collection of Indian paintings includes Rajput paintings and ragamala series, Kangra paintings, Persian paintings and the Zafarnama, paintings from Jain manuscripts and Buddhist paintings.


Thus the establishment of the museum from Sayajirao’s personal funds as an agency of culture and social outreach is testimony to his role in a context of civic humanism as well as his strategies of educational presentation.


As a great reformer and patron of art, literature, education, Sayajirao was interested in participating in various areas of society. He raised Baroda from the position of a medieval state, full of corruption and oppression and dependency. By sponsoring artists and humanists, he extended his influence over society. He also influenced learning through his support of both oriental studies and library movements. Using the wealth of the state, he was able to support art to establish his image as a wise and benevolent leader who was fit to rule over the state. Thus, the wealth available to him allowed him to expand his power and control over the state without hegemony, because of the way he consciously utilized his role as a patron to create a positive image of himself and his family to justify the influence he had. As a patron and the ruler he was also aware of the different requirements and needs of different parts of the states and started schools in Amreli, the most backward area of untouchables, railways in Chhotaudepur, and a museum, garden and college in Baroda.


The Baroda state apparatus produced and developed along Western lines, which gave Baroda the reputation of good, modern government. The reform activities and institutions which helped to define Baroda as ideal and progressive would ultimately show that the so-called western concepts deployed by the state were, in fact, altered discourses. The principle of resistance that served the Sayajirao’s reforms were replaced and re-contextualized for the purpose of the colonial project. Baroda’s constant references to the ‘modern’ revealed a nuanced understanding of the nature of colonialism and the nature of resistance. For Sayajirao, acceptance and utilization of the modern was not possession, but passage of colonial agency. It was only the altered idea that challenged the direction of modernity.


The Bank of Baroda was the modern claim to make the native/nation economically independent because of its branches in Baroda and Bombay. The establishment of the Oriental Institute and research centre and the Gaekwad Oriental Series publications, under which many ancient Indian texts were republished and translated into English, Marathi and Gujarati, to spread the cultural supremacy of Indian literature throughout the sub-continent was a very rational, hybrid and therefore modern thought which can be also considered another kind of nationalism through institutionalism.


Colonial ‘mimicry’ can be also seen in the Baroda museum collection, especially in the European picture gallery but with the clear agenda that ‘this collection is for careful study but not for imitation’. He was aware of the fact that ‘no national art can be improved by plagiarism (copying) of alien creative inspiration’. The point is that he alone in India invested in purchasing the best European art and then gifted this collection to his public. It is observed that through the deployment of this collection, 'Sayajirao made European culture a specimen in an Indian-controlled museum.'


It should be noted that under the indirect rule of the British, Sayajirao allied himself with British India and implied that the princely states were part of the greater nation of ‘India’, rather than being independent states, though the structure of the nation was not yet specified. If we see the princely state of Baroda as part of the British colonies, an idea of the state was bypassing the geographical boundaries of princely Baroda, to construct ‘nationalism’.


Apte, Daji Nagesh.1936. Sayajirao Gaekwad III yanche Jeevan Charitra (Marathi), vol. 1. Vadodara.  


Balamani M. 2004. ‘Pre Ravi Varma Academic Style Artists in the Baroda Palace Collection: Myth and Reality’, in Nirukta: Journal of Art History and Aesthetics, ed. Deepak Kannal. Vadodara: The M.S. University of Baroda.


Baroda Administration Report. 1891.


Gazetteer of India. 1979. Vadodara District Gazetteer.


Goetz, Hermann. 1951. Handbook of the Collection. Vadodara: Baroda Museum and Picture Gallery.


Parimoo, Ratan, ed. 1998. Legacy of Ravi Varma. Baroda: Maharaja Fatehsingh Museum Trust.


Ramachandran, A. 2003. ‘Raja Ravi Varma: A Marketing Strategies of a Modern Indian Artist', in Modern Indian Art: An Overview, ed. Gayatri Sinha. New Delhi: Rupa & Co.



[1] Being supported by the court and people, Baroda was studded with musicians and dancers. The memories of the founder of the Indian musical notation Maulabaksh and the famous vocal master Faiyazkhan are still fresh in the galaxy of men and women who contributed to this art. The notation system was devised by Maulabaksh. A special syllabus for music was introduced in the primary and secondary schools of the state (Vadodara District Gazetteer 1979:710–11).


[2] Of the portrait of Sayajirao Gaekwad, Prof. Parimoo commented that the attribution of this painting to Ravi Varma is questionable. He also states that Herman Goetz in his Catalogue on Baroda Palace Collection accepted the date of his painting as 1879, on the basis of the brass label fixed on the frame of the painting which bears no date or signature of the artist. This could be the portrait of Sayajirao by M.C.T Naidu, which was accepted as an entry by the Poona exhibition. A letter from Madhavrao to the Fine Art Exhibition, Poona dated August 2, 1879 states that Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad’s portrait of M.CT. Naidu was sent to that exhibition (Parimoo; Balamani 2004:91).


[3] Princely states like Pudukottai, Mysore, Trivandrum, Bhavnagar, Palitana, Jaipur, Alwar, Gwalior, Indore, Udaipur etc. invited Ravi Varma to execute mythological and epic paintings (Sinha; Ramachandran 2003:28).


[4] Mr Spielmann, editor of Connoisseur magazine and director of Liverpool Art Gallery, was entrusted with the work of collecting typical pictures of artists of various schools (Goetz 1951).