aquatints, lithographs, photographs, rare books and manuscripts, stamps and postal stationery, coins and medals, arms and armour, sculptures, costumes, personal relics and other miscellaneous archival documents. The highlight of the museum is a unique collection of paintings by major European artists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, such as Thomas and William Daniell, Johann Zoffany, Joshua Reynolds, William Hodges,George Chinnery, Robert Holmes, Thomas Hickey, Tilly Kettle, Baltazar Solvyns, Charles D’Oyly, Emily Eden, and Samuel Davis. In the collection of the Memorial is the third largest painting on a single canvas, the Russian artist Vassili Vereshchagin’s The State Procession of the Prince of Wales into Jaipur in 1876.
Other important and interesting artefacts in the collection of the Memorial include historic illustrated Persian manuscripts like the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb’s hand-written Quran, the Persian translation of the tale of Nala and Damayanti by Abul Faiz Faizi, Dara Shikoh’s translation of the Upanishads, a manuscript copy of the Ain-i-Akbari, Kalighat paintings, Iranian paintings of the Qajar school, Tipu Sultan’s personal war diary, cannons and cannon balls used in the battle of Plassey, Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s personal sword, and Taya Tope’s overcoat. In the recent years the collection has been further enriched by the acquisition, on enduring loan from Rabindra Bharati Society, of nearly 5,000 paintings of the Bengal School of Art, especially many prominent works of Abanindranath Tagore, Gaganendranath Tagore, Jamini Roy and others.
Currently, the Victoria Memorial Hall is by far the most-visited museum in India and one of the top museums in the world in terms of footfall, with more than 20 lakh people visiting its galleries and 14 lakh people touring the gardens separately in 2013-14. Tripadvisor, the world’s largest travel website, has awarded the VMH a “Certificate of Excellence” in both 2013 and 2014. The recipients of this Certificate of Excellence represent the top 10 per cent of the tourist destinations worldwide that are listed on Tripadvisor. Lonely Planet, the largest travel guide book publisher in the world, has recognized the VMH as a “Top Choice,” and Fodor’s, the world’s largest publisher of English-language travel and tourism information, has given the VMH a “Fodor’s Choice” rating.
Apart from maintaining and displaying its permanent collection, the Victoria Memorial Hall also organizes several temporary exhibitions each year, including international ones. It also organizes lectures, seminars, workshops on art, culture, history, and heritage on a regular basis, celebrates key national and international days by organizing various programmes, and proactively involves students in museum activities. Its library, with nearly 16,000 books including rare ones, is the leading library of art, art history and museum studies in Bengal. For more than two decades, it has also been running a very popular Light & Sound show on the history of Calcutta. Victoria Memorial Hall has a full-fledged Restoration and Conservation Unit, with a well-equipped laboratory. The staff of this unit also provide technical support to other institutions in conservation/restoration, including to several museums in the North Eastern States in the recent past.