The Government Museum & Art Gallery was designed as a building for the Museum by Le Corbusier. It came into being on the 6th of May, 1968 with untiring efforts of Late M.S. Randhawa, the then Chief Commissioner.
Like the City of Chandigarh, the Museum owes its existence to the partition of the country. The collection of arts objects, paintings, sculpture and decorative arts was housed in Lahore, the then Capital of Punjab. On 20th April 1948 the division of the collection took place by which 60% of the objects were retained as were the objects already re-produced in books and excavated from the sites falling in erstwhile Punjab. The remaining 40% collection consisting mainly of Gandhara Sculpture and miniature paintings fell in the East Punjab’s share. Received in 1949, the collection was first installed in Amritsar and then shifted to Shimla. In 1954, the exhibits were shifted to Moti Bagh Palace, Patiala. It was decided in 1960 that the Museum should have a building of its own in Chandigarh. The plan was approved in 1962 and the work remained suspended for sometime and finally, the Museum was constructed and opened to public in May, 1968.
The Museum possesses the largest collection of the world famous Gandhara Sculptures after Lahore. There is also a well appointed library in the Museum, which meets the needs of the scholars and students through its stock of 4600 books and references of arts and allied subjects.
The Art Galleries are classified as follows:-
When Alexander of Macesdonia came to India in 326 B.C., it consisted of 122 different nations. After his death in 323 B.C. his Generals added to the number by setting up additional independent kingdoms. The whole of Western Asia (from the present day Syria right upto Western Punjab in Pakistan) came under Graeco-Roman influence affecting art, customs, fashions, coins and language of the region. The local public intermarried with Romans and Greeks and adopted mixed religions and customs.
By the Ist century B.C., a large number of these foreigners settled in the Buddhist border kingdom of Gandhara (the name derived from "Gandhari", the local tribe settled in the extreme NWFP region). The Gandhara region includes two royal cities Taxila & Pushkalavati near Peshawar. These early settlers converted to Buddhism, built monasteries, temple, stupas and created a vigorous art movement, ‘The Graeco-Buddhist art of Gandhara’. Though superficially there were Graeco Roman elements in this art, it was essentially an Indian art. This art flourished under the various rulers right upto 500 A.D., the famous out of the them being the Kushan King-Kanishka(2nd century A.D.). He conquered Mathura and the movement spread to that area also. It is believed that the art activity declined in Gandhara in 700 A.D and the artisans flocked to Kashmir via Baramula through the Pir Panjal range. There are two major archaeological sites in Kashmir- a large monastery in ruins at Ushkar near Baramula and a similar monastery in the neighbourhood of Akhnur, in Jammu. These sites are popularly called Kashmir Terracottas.
Four distinct periods of this art are the Primitive style (1st century B.C.-250 A.D.), the Classical style (300 A.D. to 500 A.D.), the Mannerist style (500 – 650 A.D.), the Baroque style(650-800 A.D.). The Museum has an excellent collection of Buddhist, Brahminical , Jain sculptures. A part of collection came from Lahore. Some were received from Central National Museum and a few others were exchanged from other museums.
Indian paintings with the possible but important exception of early Indian frescoes are for the individual, to be enjoyed one or two at a time. Religionwise, the paintings may be divided into 3 categories - Buddhist, Hindu & Mohammedan.
The Hindu paintings have come to be referred as Rajput on account of its association with Rajputana and hill Rajputs of Punjab. The Rajas in Rajasthan employed artists who left the court of Delhi and apart from this, there was also a spiritual revival in Hinduism. The worship of Krishna spread all over India and it inspired the mystical literature and paintings in Rajasthan and Punjab hills in 12th-16th centuries.
The paintings reflect the belief, customs and traditions of the common people. The main aim was to popularise religion and make it available in every household. Chittor and Udaipur were the main cultural centres. The other centres were Bundi, Marwar & Bikaner, all now situated in Rajasthan
The Mohammedan art is called Mughal as the art owed its existence to the encouragement it received from the Mughal empire. The paintings exhibit customs and traditions of the common people in a completely different style. The intent is to the state a fact without any spiritual overtones. The Mughal school of painting started with the Akbar and it attained its peak under the imperial dilettante Jehangir.
Buddhist and Rajput art were symbolic, signifying the spiritual life, with mysticism and the religion chief and dominant features while Mughal painting was frankly secular, and in character, realistic and eclectic.
The offshoot of the Rajput school manifested itself in the Punjab Himalayas developing small but highly significant individual role. Often called ‘Kangra Kalam’ after the leading state of the region, the ‘Pahari School’ includes mountainous states of Nurpur, Basohli, Guler, Chamba, Kutler, Mankot, Jammu. The ruler of the states patronised the artists and produced considerable amount of work for local demand including portraits of rulers and chieftains, hunting and domestic scenes and illustration of mythological and religious writings.
By the 19th century, the Pahari artists enlarged their sphere of activities. The Sikh court of Lahore ruled by Maharaja Ranjit Singh from 1803 to 1839 accorded encouragement to the artists resulting in numerous paintings of Sikh nobility executed in ‘Kangra Kalam’ to start with later evolving a distinctive style. Its themes are 10 Sikh Gurus, the stories of the Janam Sakhi, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Rani Jindon, his sons, courtiers and generals. Apart from Lahore and Amritsar, which were the main centres of Sikh paintings, the others were Una, Anandpur, Kapurthala and Patiala. The famous painters of Sikh paintings are Sobha Singh, Thakur Singh, Kirpal Singh and Jaswant Singh.
Starting with the works of Bengal School revivalists artists like Rabindra Nath Tagore and Abhnindra Nath Tagore, the richness of collection is also reflected in the folkloric works of Jamini Roy and the serene paintings of Nicholas Roerick. Whether it is Amrita Sher Gill’s pictorial interpretation of the lift of the poor Indians, Hussains preference of lavish Indian Palette, human element reflected in the abstract works of Dhanraj Bhagat, the popular works of famous artists like Sobha Singh and Thakur Singh or the expressive works of Satish Gujral, the modernity of Indian art in all its aspects is quite different from that of the west. It is the emphasis on the humanistic element that gives the Modern Indian painting a distinct individual character.
Coins are important source of history and al commentary upon economic, social and political movement. The galleries display some important coins to acquaint the public with its history. Also on display are some of the important specimens of decorative arts.
There is a Pottery section which reveals clearly the complete character of country’s past personality.
Also, on display are some specimens of textiles in the form of Puradahs and Chamba rumals highlighting the trends in Indian embroidery and painting.
There are two temporary exhibition halls which can be hired for display purposes. There is also a Child Art Gallery in the Museum block. It is exclusively meant for children. There is a 180 seat air -conditioned auditorium for screening of educational films, holding of special slide lectures, seminars and conferences etc.
The city Museum was opened in December, 1997. The creation of the City Museum Chandigarh was one of the several activities pursued by the UT Administration during the 50th Anniversary of India’s independence. The objective was to document and display the planning and architectural development that went into this unique urban experiment and to bring out the distinctive and significant aspects of its lay-out and design. It houses original sketches, photographs, plans, models and documents reflecting the evolution of the City from the drawing board state to its realization.
The displays kept in the basement tell the story of partition of the country and the necessity to build new Capital city of Chandigarh. The story of selection of the site and the accompanying controversies is also told through rare documents; maps and drawings. Gradually the exhibits through various panels focus on to the selection of first team of Architects and planners i.e. the American team consisting primarily of Albert Mayer and Mathew Nowicki. Evocative original sketches, studies and drawings prepared by American team demonstrate the enormous amount of pioneering work they did in evolving the first Master Plan. Of particular interest are the broad similarities between the City’s first Master Plan prepared by Albert Mayer and the final one as modified by Le Corbusier. The sketches and documents which are on display in original highlight the hitherto, lesser known great contribution made by the American team in the building of Chandigarh.
On the Ground Floor is the display of the material pertaining to Le Corbusier’s arrival on the scene and his work subsequent to the tragic death of Mathew Nowicki and withdrawl of the American team from the contract for the project. The sketches and drawings prepared by Corbusier personally as well as by his team have been explained. The correspondence between Corbusier and Nehru is also displayed. Various models, photographs give details of the monumental buildings designed by Le Corbusier personally such as : Capital Complex, Museum Complex and the College of Arts & Architecture. Another lesser known aspect of Chandigarh’s planning is that besides, architecture and other urban components, it is one of the few cities of the world with planned landscaping. Various conceptual sketches made personally by Corbusier for the development of Leisure Valley, the Sukhna Lake and tree plantations along various roads, parks and civic areas are displayed.
The first floor of the City Museum houses the theme of "Chandigarh today and tomorrow." This section broadly displays the City’s growth after the first phase and departure of Corbusier and his foreign team. The City’s evolution through its second phase and the beginning of the third phase are highlighted. Also the commercial centres and major public buildings built later are displayed.
Opened to public on 13th August, 1973, Museum of Evolution of Life invites for a stimulating adventure in evolutionary studies. The evolution of life from the unicellular organism to its present state of biological diversity has been explained through exquisite paintings. The paintings exhibit the origin of evolution of life, the variety and diversity of plants and animals including different extinct races of man, their inter-relationship in nature and the fundamentals of evolutionary process. The other main galleries of the Museum includes Astronomy, Archaeology, Pre-historic and Geology presented with scientific and technical display. A reference library with fairly good number of books on evolution, paleontology, zoology, botany, biology etc. has been provided in the museum to meet the scientific needs of the scholars and students.
The Museum was set up with the joint efforts of Chandigarh Administration and Rotary Club of Chandigarh in 1985. The objective for setting the Dolls Museum was to attract and provide amusement to children. Dolls are living entities to children and hence an important means of communication. There are about 250 dolls from countries like Netherland, Denmark, Germany, Spain, Russia and Korea. There is also one toy train on display in the Museum. Paintings of important landmark of different countries have been added to form a background alongwith more coloured blowups.
Across the large expanse of paved space and not far from the Museum was the art gallery, referred to as the 'Pavilion of Temporary Exhibition'. The buildings of both the museum and the art gallery were realised after the death of Le Corbusier, but strictly according to his designs. The Pavilion was intended as a facility for exhibitions of individual artists. However, since this function was being more than adequately looked after by the Art Gallery within the Government Museum, supplemented by the Art Gallery in the college of Art, this building, became somewhat neglected. Its design and location made it an obvious choice for the City Museum.
There are four more Art Galleries in the city :
Portraits of Indian Freedom Fighters, rare documents of the voices of leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru are Exhibited at preserved.