Windows of the Past

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Fig. 1. Banquet Hall - Raj Bhavan (Govt House, Calcutta)

Photographs and Text by Anirban Mitra, with brief excerpts from his book on Raj Bhavan (Government House of Calcutta)with Introduction by Tapati Guha-Thakurta, D.Phil, University of Oxford. Art and Cultural Historian, Director and Professor in History, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences.

Anirban Mitra’s visual narrative constitutes a suite of over 100 images of the erstwhile Viceregal Palaces and Estates of Bengal – the official residences of the Governors-General and Viceroys in the days of the Raj, and also of the Governor of West Bengal post India’s independence. It is an artist’s impression of the monumentality of these architectural structures, conveying their exclusivity and overwhelming grandeur from a sophisticated viewpoint, taking the viewers deep into their interiors, which are generally not accessible to the public.

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Fig. 2. Northern Facade - Belvedere Estate, Calcutta

The photographs also present an intimate view of the ornamental and sculptural details that the general viewer often overlooks. The compositions of the exteriors and interiors, the full views and architectural details are an invaluable resource which enable experts to understand more fully a detailed history of their architectural and sculptural styles. All can glean a larger history of the times, places, patrons and powers to which these buildings belonged, while the general public can secure virtual access to the buildings and appreciate the sheer visual awe and aura they exude.

Government Houses

These buildings bear witness to an extraordinary, shared history; and story of kings, queens and princes; famous statesmen and soldiers; wars, treaties and reclamations. They illustrate what a key central position these Government Houses held not only in British India, but also post -independence. Anirban Mitra’s lens steers clear of modern incongruities to portray intimately the life of these architectural spaces and to visually emphasise their essence.

The Belvedere Estate
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Fig. 3. Throne Room - Raj Bhavan (Govt House, Calcutta)

The Belvedere Estate consists of Belvedere House and 30 acres of surrounding ground in Alipore in Calcutta. It was the former Viceregal Palace for the Viceroy of India and later the Lt. Governor of Bengal. The origins of Belvedere House lie in the late 1760s from approximately the time when Mir Jafar was the Nawab of Bengal. While he was in Calcutta, he built many buildings in the Alipore area and gifted Belvedere House to Warren Hastings. After the Battle of Buxar in 1764, Hastings left for England. The Governors General – Verelst and Cartier occupied the Belvedere during the period when Hastings was away in England.

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Fig. 4. Statue at Belvedere Estate, Calcutta

Hastings returned to Calcutta as Governor in 1772 and to this garden house, the Belvedere, with a certain Baroness Inhoff by his side. It was outside the western gate that Hastings fought his famous duel with Philip Francis in 1780. Hastings finally sold Belvedere House to a Major Tolly in the 1780s. He died in 1784 and his family sold the property in 1802. From 1854 to 1911 the Belvedere housed the Lieutenant Governors of Bengal, until the capital moved to Delhi in 1912. It is now used by the National Library.

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Fig. 5. Seat at Throne Room - Raj Bhavan (Govt House, Calcutta)

ANIRBAN MITRA. Photographer for exclusive, elite subjects and private portraiture. Working over 15 years, he has photographed the erstwhile Viceregal Palaces and Estates of Bengal and the interiors of over forty palaces, stately homes, mansions and clubs—privately-owned as well as government properties. Solo exhibitions of his work have been mounted at premier galleries of India and the UK, and his works are in the permanent collections of esteemed organizations, including the National Portrait Gallery, London. Anirban has contributed to reputed magazines and published illustrated books. Along with still-photography, he is currently working in the motion-picture medium. His award-winning documentary ‘Nemai Ghosh: A RAY of Light’ is currently streaming in YouTube. He lives in Calcutta.

Online Gallery : https://sites.google.com/site/anirbanmitranow/