Early Views of India: Picturesque Journeys of Thomas and William Daniell, 1786-94
By Mildred Archer
Published by Thames & Hudson Ltd. - 1980
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Art historian at the India Office
By Deborah Swallow
The Independent - 2005
In 1954, the India Office Library invited Mildred Archer to catalogue a "few miscellaneous Indian paintings". The task was expected to take a few weeks only, but led to 25 years based at the library: it was the start of a project that significantly helped to shape our understanding of artistic activity in and on India in the period from the late 18th to the early 20th centuries, as is shown by the dense bibliography of Archer's writings.
The India Office collections were a superb, and at that time untapped, resource. After the division of the India Office collections in 1879 and their dispersal to the British Museum, the Victoria & Albert Museum and other institutions, the India Office Library collections had mainly been used by historians and linguists and the paintings had been neglected.
As Archer delved in the Reading Room and Iron Room of the library's then premises in King Charles Street and looked for missing parts of series in the old India Office (now the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), she identified more and more groups of the drawings and engravings made mainly for the British by both British and Indian professional painters.
A steady stream of publications began to appear, some driven by exhibitions - for example, The Daniells in India (1960) accompanied the Commonwealth Institute exhibition of watercolours and drawings made by William and Thomas Daniell on their Indian tours in the late 18th century; others came about by the disciplined, systematic and accumulative work of cataloguing the collection.