Exhibition: ‘The Art of Courtly Lucknow’

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on April 6, 2011

I’m afraid this exhibition slipped past me when it was at LACMA. It opens today, however, at the Musée Guimet in Paris. Thanks to Hélène Bremer for pointing it out. The following description comes from the LACMA press release:

India’s Fabled City: The Art of Courtly Lucknow / Une cour royale en Inde: Lucknow
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 12 December 2010 — 27 February 2011
Musée National des Arts asiatiques-Guimet, Paris, 6 April — 11 July 2011

Curated by Stephen Markel and Tushara Bindu Gude

Exhibition catalogue, 272 pages, ISBN: 9783791350752

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art presents India’s Fabled City: The Art of Courtly Lucknow—the first major international exhibition devoted to the cosmopolitan culture of the northern Indian court of Lucknow, and the refined artistic production of the city’s multiethnic residents and artists. On view from December 12, 2010 through February 27, 2011, the exhibition will include almost 200 artworks: European oil paintings, watercolors, and prints; Indian opaque watercolor paintings generally made for albums, vintage photography, textiles, and garments, and a range of decorative art objects including metalwork, glassware, weaponry, and jewelry. Organized by Stephen Markel, LACMA curator of South & Southeast Asian art and department head, and Tushara Bindu Gude, associate curator, The Art of Courtly Lucknow will not only present the unique artistic traditions of Lucknow, but will also provide a framework for understanding the history of this extraordinary region and the nature of India’s colonial history and memory. . . .

After Johann Zoffany, "Colonel Polier Watching a Nautch," gouache on paper, ca. 1786-88 (Zurich: Museum Rietberg)

Lucknow was the capital of Awadh (a province in the Mughal Empire located in the present-day Indian state of Uttar Pradesh), and has become identified with the broader region and culture. From the mid-eighteenth century until the establishment of formal British rule in India in 1858, Lucknow overshadowed Delhi—the capital of the Mughal dynasty—to become the cultural center of northern India. Indian artists, poets, and courtiers flocked to Awadh seeking security and patronage, as Delhi suffered an extended period of unrest beginning in 1739. European artists, travelers and political agents were also soon lured to the region, seduced by tales of the wealth, opulence, and the generosity of Lucknow’s rulers (nawabs) and by the beauty of the city itself. The dynamic interaction between Indians and Europeans, the interplay
between their respective tastes and traditions, and the hybrid
lives led by many of Lucknow’s residents are explored in the
exhibition and accompanying publication.

The Art of Courtly Lucknow examines this interaction against the broader narrative of India’s colonial history. Following the Indian Uprising of 1857 (also known as the Great Mutiny, Rebellion, or First Indian War of Independence) and the consolidation of British power in India, Lucknow’s prestige decreased dramatically. It continued, however, to be an important center for the production of luxury objects and a key destination for European and Indian visitors. British and Indian artworks of the late nineteenth century indicate the different ways in which the image and memory of Lucknow were deployed. Many works chart the loss of diversity and the fixing of national identities and aspirations, but some also recall Lucknow’s past glory. In the popular culture of modern-day India, Lucknow has an ambiguous history. It evokes nostalgia for a lost past but is also presented as a source of national and cultural pride.

The exhibition consists of twelve sections, arranged in ten galleries. Sections are organized chronologically and thematically in order to convey both the narrative of Lucknow’s history and the development of its artistic traditions.

1. Introduction
The exhibition begins with several key images in the introductory gallery which suggest the multiple perspectives that informed Lucknow’s history, culture, and legacy. The two sections that follow introduce the court of Awadh through Mughal paintings, portraits, photographs by European and Indian artists, and decorative arts bearing heraldic imagery.

2. The Emergence of a Sovereign State
Locates the historical origins of the Lucknow court within the structure of the Mughal Empire and describes the Lucknow rulers’ adoption of Mughal royal prerogatives even as they asserted their own political independence.

3. The Rulers of Awadh: Patrons and Kings
Consists primarily of portraits which introduce the major rulers of Awadh and highlight their patronage of European artists, many of whom flocked to India in the late eighteenth century in the wake of significant political gains made by the English East India Company.

4. The Allure of Faizabad and Lucknow
Explores the appeal of Lucknow, particularly its palatial architecture and romantic landscape, through the eyes of British and Indian artists.

5. Religious Architecture at Lucknow
Focuses on the Shia Muslim religious monuments built by Lucknow’s ruling elites.

6. Courtly Opulence
Showcases the refined cosmopolitan culture of Lucknow through its sumptuous decorative arts. These early sections of the exhibition focus on the fashioning of selfidentity by Lucknow’s rulers and also indicate visually the basis for Lucknow’s legendary fame. In addition, the artworks selected for Galleries 2 through 6 articulate the stylistic development of early Lucknow painting and the aesthetic that informed the region’s architectural and decorative art traditions.

7. Part I: Major General Claude Martin and the Cosmopolitan Culture of Lucknow / Part II: European Collectors of Indian Painting: Antoine Polier and Richard Johnson
Explores the interaction of Indians and Europeans at Lucknow, focusing particularly on the hybrid lifestyles, identities, and patronage of the latter. The artworks comprising the section Major General Claude Martin and the Cosmopolitan Culture of Lucknow highlight the aesthetic pursuits of one of Lucknow’s most significant European residents. The section European Collectors of Indian Painting: Antoine Polier and Richard Johnson focuses on the Indian painting traditions that developed in Awadh, which are described entirely through works collected by two important European connoisseurs.

8. European Collectors and the Emerging Colonial State
Explores the broader social and political world that connected various collectors. Galleries 7 and 8 permit reflection upon the fashioning of elite European identity in India.

9. The Great Uprising of 1857-58: European Memories of Lucknow
Presents the shift in European attitudes to Lucknow as a result of The Uprising. European paintings and photographs suggest the multiple ways in which the events of the Uprising were imagined by and for a largely British viewing public.

10. Part I: Artistic Production in Lucknow after the Great Uprising / Part II: Courtesans and Courtly Culture: Indian Memories of Lucknow
The first part of Gallery 10 showcases luxury wares that were produced at Lucknow in the late-nineteenth century. Absent royal patronage, these goods were largely consumed by an emerging class of powerful landowners and European visitors. In the second part, eighteenth-century Indian and European artworks, nineteenth-century Indian photographs, and Indian films are brought together in order to examine the impact of Lucknow’s refined and highly romanticized courtesan culture upon the city’s legacy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s