Awaits funds from Centre; building was closed to public a decade ago
While whizzing past the flyover on Pantheon Road, on one side are overgrown pale white buildings and well-dressed mannequins dominating the skyline, while on the other side, sits an ornate structure that looks happily incongruent to the times, gorging on sunshine and coming alive in a pink flourish. But, it has been close to a decade since enamoured passers-by, have been allowed to venture in.
Surreal on the surface, and rooted deep in the Government Museum’s history, the Victoria Memorial Hall building, which houses the National Art Gallery at the museum in Egmore has been closed to public since 2002, and is still awaiting funds from the Centre to take up restoration work.
Sources in the museum say, they have been pursuing the matter with the Ministry of Culture and that the process is still underway.
The gallery was closed after cracks were spotted and the Public Works Department (PWD) deemed it unsafe 10 years ago.
Rs. 11 cr. estimate
A rough cost estimate of Rs.11 crore for complete restoration was arrived at, based on a report submitted by experts from the Public Works Department (Civil), Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, and IIT-Madras last year, say officials. Museum officials say that though the expert opinion was that the foundation had given way, they also said that it was possible to restore the structure if suitable expertise was employed.
When funds are granted, the official said that a committee would be formed and a final plan would be drafted in consultation with experts and that it would be restored along the lines of the Victoria Public Hall near Chennai Central Railway Station. Museum officials maintain that the heritage building is opened regularly for cleaning and maintenance work is carried out by the PWD.
The gallery was inspected as recently as three months ago by a structural engineer from IIT-M, said the official. Though the issue has passed on from museum commissioner to commissioner, the gallery still remains closed for public view, and restoration work is yet to be taken up.
Museum officials, however, were non-committal when asked about the cause of the delay. An official said that emergency funds to carry out priority-based civil and electrical repairs have been sanctioned, and the tender process is underway.
The structure, which was declared open in 1901, as Victoria Memorial Hall, initially housed the Victoria Technical Institute.
The pink sandstone exterior of the building, marble flooring, madras plaster walls, stucco art and a doorway that is inspired by Emperor Akbar’s Fatehpur Sikri, were designed by Erskine Irwin and built by Namberumal Chetty.
According the museum’s history, the building which was used by the Victoria Technical Institute was named National Art Gallery in 1951, the museum’s centenary year and opened to the public on November 27. The gallery is said to have housed Tanjore, Mughal, Deccan and Kangra paintings among several other art styles and influences.
These paintings, according to an official, are displayed in the adjacent Contemporary Art Gallery on a rotational basis.
An expert who has visited the structure last year says that it is imperative that the doors be opened, and soon.