Court Paintings from India

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on September 13, 2009

From the British Museum’s website:

Gardens and Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur

British Museum, London, 28 May – 11 October 2009


Death of Vali; Rama and Lakshmana wait out of the monsoon (detail). Illustration from the Ramcharitmanas of Tulsidas (1532–1623) Jodhpur, c. 1775 © Mehrangarh Museum Trust

The exhibition features a loan of 56 paintings from India, none of which have been displayed before in Europe. It is a fantastic opportunity to experience the unique art tradition that flourished in the royal courts between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. During this period, the region of Jodhpur, in modern-day Rajasthan, produced a distinctive and inventive painting style. Paintings produced for the private enjoyment of the Maharaja and his court brought together traditional Rajasthani styles and combined them with styles developed in the imperial court of the Mughals.


Krishna frolics with the Gopi girls (detail), folio 2 from the Krishna Lila, Jodhpur, c. 1765 © Mehrangarh Museum Trust

The paintings included in the exhibition range from a handful of miniatures to monumental artworks depicting the palaces, wives and families of the Jodhpur rulers. Later works depict epic narratives and demonstrate the devotion of Maharaja Man Singh to an esoteric yogic tradition. Jodhpur artists rose to the challenge of creating images for metaphysical concepts and yoga narratives which had never previously been the focus of the region’s court art.

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Maharaja Bakhat Singh at the Jharokha window of the Bakhat Singh Mahal (detail). Attributed here to 'Artist 2', Nagaur, 1737 (Samvat 1794) © Mehrangarh Museum Trust

Writing for the Times of London, Rachel Campbell-Johnston describes the exhibition as offering “Nirvana hanging on a wall,” while The Observer’s critic, Laura Cumming, found it to be “the most intoxicating show of the year so far” (at least as of late May). Echoing the refrain earlier this month, Christopher Webb in the Financial Times calls the show “magical and exciting.” He was particularly impressed by the condition of the works: “they are as vividly fresh as if they had been painted months ago rather than hundreds of years; kept closeted in the Mehrangarh fort, they suffered no damage from exposure to light. This freshness helps us to feel the humanity of the life of this palace – a musical instrument, the ties on a jacket, the patterns on a bed cover, the shape of an oar, the way a turban looks when it falls off – the level of detail is extraordinary.” Finally, Kathryn Hadley provides a summary for History Today.

[The exhibition first appeared at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington from October 11, 2008 to January 4, 2009; click here for an audio guide.]

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