Widely regarded as one of the finest of its kind, British artist Howard Hodgkin’s collection of Indian paintings includes works created at the Mughal, Deccan, Rajput, and Pahari courts dating from the 16th to the 19th century. Opening at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on February 6, 2024, the exhibition Indian Skies: The Howard Hodgkin Collection of Indian Court Painting will present a unique and personal vision of India’s great painting tradition through newly acquired works from the artist’s collection. In 2022, The Met announced a major acquisition of more than 80 drawings and paintings from the Howard Hodgkin Collection.
Max Hollein, The Met’s Marina Kellen French Director and CEO, commented: “Howard Hodgkin’s extraordinary collection of Indian paintings features stunning portraits along with beautifully detailed text illustrations, studies of the natural world, and devotional subjects that are sure to captivate visitors to The Met. The collection was interwoven with the artist’s life—and his experiences in India and his relationships with scholars and artists of Indian art—and often inspired his own creative output. This exhibition celebrates the brilliance and power of these tremendous paintings and offers a glimpse into the artist’s unique vision and passion for one of the world’s great pictorial tradition. We are thrilled to present the works that have recently joined our collection and extend our thanks to The Howard Hodgkin Indian Collection Trust for lending additional important works.”
Below, Shi’ite processional standard with pieced calligraphy and intertwined dragons (‘alam). Standards are used by the Shi’a community in processions marking the martyrdom of Imam Husain, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, who died at the Battle of Karbala in A.D. 680.
The exhibition will present over 120 examples of Indian court paintings assembled by Hodgkin over a lifetime of collecting. This highly individual collection represents the artist’s response to the color, subject matter, and the emotive content of Indian painting. The exhibition will comprise works newly acquired by the Museum and will be supplemented by loans from The Howard Hodgkin Indian Collection Trust.
Below, from L-R, Attendants at an Imperial Durbar, Mughal, ca. 1645, Opaque color and gold on paper; Portrait of the Courtier IItifat Khan, Michael, ca. 1640, Brush drawing with pigment on paper; Prince ‘Adam Shah Enters Ahmedabad, Mughal, ca. 1701, Ink, color, and gold on paper.
Underlying Hodgkin’s eclectic collection—which includes portraits, palace scenes, royal hunts, illustrations to religious epics, devotional subjects, and nature studies—are several unifying themes that reflect Hodgkin’s preferences for compositions that convey narrative drama, poetic allusion, and emotional intensity. He also had a predilection for elephants rendered as portraits and in action.
The exhibition reflects Hodgkin’s personal taste while remaining true to the scholarly traditions around Indian painting. The paintings will be arranged in a chronological sequence by school, starting with the earliest works of the 16th-century Mughal era and related Deccani works, followed by the later Rajput and Pahari schools.
Above, Aurangzeb earned the title of bahadur (brave) from his father, the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, after he faced a charging elephant at the age of fourteen. The artwork is Opaque watercolor, gold, and silver on paper.
Wedding recession of Sultan Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah is an Opaque watercolor and gold on paper. The figures accompanying the nighttime wedding procession of the Sultan and his Hindu bride, Bhagmati, glow against the dark background as they carry ceremonial umbrellas above the couple, who are seated together on a horse.
A third space is given over to the celebration of the elephant paintings, which span all schools. The presentation will also include Hodgkin’s paintings Small Indian Sky and In Mirza’s Room, which will be shown in association with related Indian works, alluding to the subtle relationship between Hodgkin’s own work, India, and his collection.
The exhibition is made possible by the Florence and Herbert Irving Fund for Asian Art Exhibitions, and the Friends of Islamic Art.
Credits and Related Content
Indian Skies: The Howard Hodgkin Collection of Indian Court Painting is co-curated by John Guy, Florence and Herbert Irving Curator of South and Southeast Asian Art, and Navina Najat Haidar, Nasser Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah Curator in Charge of Islamic Art, at The Met.
Below, ‘A Prince Riding an Elephant in Procession’ is Opaque color and gold on cotton cloth. Filled with life and variety, this fragment demonstrates the humanism and individuality of each person and animal figure. The figure of the main rider, which has almost entirely flaked off, may have represented Akbar himself, the royal patron of this work.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, a quarterly publication, has devoted the Spring 2024 issue to the exhibition.
The Met’s quarterly Bulletin program is supported in part by the Lila Acheson Wallace Fund for The Metropolitan Museum of Art, established by the cofounder of Reader’s Digest.
The exhibition ‘Indian Skies: The Howard Hodgkin Collection of Indian Court Painting’ will be on view from February 6 to June 9, 2024 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue, NYC.
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Read more about Howard Hodgkin in his book ‘Visions of Mughal India: The Collection of Howard Hodgkin‘ or his gorgeous book ‘Painting India‘.