Published: November 27, 2001
Worlds of Wonder and Desire: Indian Paintings from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
RICHMOND, VA. – The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is presenting the first comprehensive showing of its rich holdings in South Asian painting in “Worlds of Wonder and Desire: Indian Paintings from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.” The exhibition, on view through February 24, traces the evolution of Indian painting from the Twelfth to the early Twentieth Century with a display of almost 100 works collected over the course of some 35 years.
“This is a magnificent collection that has grown dramatically since its origins in the 1960s,” said Dr Michael Brand, director of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and a specialist in South Asian art.
In addition, the exhibition celebrates the publication of The Arts of India, an encyclopedic catalog of the museum’s internationally recognized holdings in Indian sculpture, painting, decorative arts and textiles.
Brand says the book “is a major contribution to the history of Indian art.” Fifteen years in the making, the cata-log was written by Dr Joseph M. Dye III, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Curator of South Asian and Islamic Art at the museum.
“I hope that this exhibition will help visitors to appreciate the charm and beauty of Indian miniature painting. Our museum has a wonderful collection, and I think that visitors will be astounded at its range and depth,” said Dye, who organized the exhibition.
The show includes opaque watercolors executed on palm leaf, paper, ivory and cloth and depicts a variety of traditional themes: the gods and myths of India’s great religions; the pleasures, pastimes and personalities of the subcontinent’s royal courts; and poems celebrating love, the seasons of the year and music.
Some were commissioned by kings, noblemen or wealthy religious institutions; others by well-to-do merchants.
Pages from a Pala dynasty palm leaf manuscript (“Ashtasahasrika Prajnaparamita”) in watercolor and ink, circa 1150-1200. Such books are among the oldest illustrated manuscripts that survive in India and are very rare.
A page from a manuscript of the “Harivamsha,” circa 1585, depicting Krishna and Balarama arriving in Brindaban, will also be on display. The opaque watercolor on paper is from a major imperial Mughal manuscript commissioned by the great Emperor Askbar. Dye called it “the finest Mughal painting that we own.”
Also on view is a circa 1800-1810 opaque watercolor on paper of a durbar – a royal audience – at Pali, Rajasthan, from the Manwar school. It is a classic example of a durbar scene. A page from a Ramayana series, circa 1690-1700, probably painted at Kulu in the Punjab Hills, shows Rama telling his mother Kausalya that he has been exiled to the forest for 14 years.
The show includes a circa 1650-60 watercolor of a wo-man in European costume raising her hands towards the sun, from the Golconda school, Deccan. The powerful, intense picture shows the influence in India of Western prints, paintings and costumes.
A scene showing herdsmen and a buffalo outside a village near Delhi, circa 1816, is “a particularly fine example of paintings that were done in a European style by Indian artists for British patrons,” according to Dye. Known as a company painting (the company being the East India Company), the work is from the Fraser album.
Also on view adjacent to “Worlds of Wonder and Desire” is an installation that highlights an important illustrated Jnaneshvari manuscript – the only one of its kind in the United States. It was completed in 1763 and is a commentary on the greatest of all Sanskrit texts, the “Bhagavadgita.” The “Jnaneshvari” is regarded as a beloved symbol of the identity and culture of the Maratha people of northern India. The text was illustrated at a time when Hindu books began to vie with contemporary Muslim manuscripts in the perfection of their paper, calligraphy, illustration and binding. Forty-seven pages of the manuscript are illustrated with gem-like paintings, most of which are framed with elaborately painted borders. The manuscript, on view in the Deane Gallery, was acquired by the museum in 1991 and has never before been shown here.
The Arts of India catalog is available.
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is on the Boulevard at Grove Avenue. The galleries are open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 am to 5 pm; Thursday night until 8 pm. For information, 804-340-1400 or www.vmfa.state.va.us.
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