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Richard Johnson

(1753—1807) East India Company servant and collector of oriental art and manuscripts


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(b. 1753; d. Brighton, 19 Aug. 1807). English collector. He went to India in 1770 as a writer in the Bengal Civil Service and spent ten years in Calcutta, occupying various posts including assistant to the Governor-General Warren Hastings (1732–1818). Johnson became very rich, augmenting his salary with private trade, and he also took part in the intellectual life surrounding Hastings, study ing oriental languages, commissioning copies of manuscripts for his own use and purchasing paintings. He was in Lucknow as Head Assistant to the Resident (1780–82), where he increased his collection. On returning to Calcutta, he became friends with the Orientalist scholar William Jones (1746–94). Johnson was Resident at Hyderabad (1784–5), where he again extended his collection, especially with Deccani paintings. Recalled to Calcutta, he became involved with the Asiatic Society of Bengal, founded by Jones. In 1786 Johnson joined the Board of Revenue and became Chairman of the General Bank of India, a post he held until his departure from India in 1790. In England he was Member of Parliament for Milborne Port (1791–4) and an active partner in the London and Middlesex Bank. Financial difficulties led him to sell his collection in 1807. Purchased by the East India Company for its library in Leadenhall Street, London (now the India Office Library), the collection consists of 716 manuscripts (in Arabic, Assamese, Bengali, Hindi, Persian, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Turkish and Urdu) and 64 albums of paintings and calligraphy. The paintings cover a wide range of subject matter, including depictions of Indian life and customs, portraits, ragamala paintings and illustrations of Persian literature.

From The Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Art.


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