National Art Gallery getting a facelift

Archaeologists, engineers roped in for Rs. 11-crore restoration work funded by State government

Updated - April 15, 2016 05:32 am IST

Published - April 15, 2016 12:00 am IST - Chennai:

During the years of World War II, the Indo-Saracenic-styled National Art Gallery in the Government Museum at Egmore served as an armoury for British India.

This gallery, which was in a dilapidated state for a long period, is being restored to its original splendour by a team of archaeologists and engineers.

“Being a heritage structure, we are taking extra care in its restoration. In the initial phase, we are strengthening the basement of the building. As of now, more than 80 per cent of this work has been completed,” an official in the museum told The Hindu .

Funded by the state government, the Rs. 11-crore restoration work is being carried out under the guidance of the Heritage Committees, including the one on chemical conservation, with experts from ASI (Chennai Circle) and Public Works Department (PWD). The work is being monitored by D. Jaganathan, Commissioner of Museums, Government Museum, Sekar, assistant director of the Museum, and Umashankar, curator, Contemporary Art Gallery, Government Museum.

At present, work on strengthening the basement by laying deep trenches around the structure to trace its original basement, which is around 10-feet deep, has been undertaken by PWD engineers.

PWD officials said the entire neighbourhood including Chetpet and Egmore had clayey soil and this fact had promoted the decision to build the gallery using a huge volume of sand for the basement thereby ensuring structural stability. “Unlike sand, clay expands and shrinks as per weather conditions. So, to ensure stability of the structure, huge amounts of sand are used along with brick and lime mortar to provide a strong foundation,” said a PWD official.

Years of weathering and unplanned construction activities in the neighbourhood, including high-raised buildings, led to deep cracks on the building including on its roof, walls and pillars.

Further, the growth of vegetation due to pigeon droppings widened the cracks and accelerated the crumbling of the dilapidated structure. A decade and half ago, in 2002, the gallery was closed after a small room inside the building collapsed. Since then, the gallery has been kept out of bounds for visitors.

Considered to be one of the oldest art galleries in India, it had around 175 collections of paintings including Ravi Varma, Tanjore, Deccan, Rajasthan, and Mughal. Wood and ivory carvings, metal and bronze objects and British era portraits were among the other works of art that made the gallery strikingly beautiful.

The entire collection had been shifted to the adjacent Contemporary art gallery where they are in display now.

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