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Home / Latest News / Indian treasures to go on show at National Museum Cardiff

Indian treasures to go on show at National Museum Cardiff

As a successful artist in his own right, Sir Howard Hodgkin certainly has an eye for striking objects.

So it comes as no surprise to learn that he’s amassed an his impressive collection of sought-after Indian paintings, some of which date back to the 16th century.

Now he’s sharing the work for the first time in Wales during an exhibition which opens at National Museum Cardiff today.

It includes most of the main types of Indian court painting that flourished during the Mughal period (between the years 1550 and 1850) – from the refined naturalistic works of the imperial Mughal court and the poetic and subtly coloured paintings of the Deccani Sultanates to the boldly drawn and vibrantly coloured styles of the Rajput kingdoms of Rajasthan and the Punjab Hills.

This group of works has long been considered as one of the finest of its kind in the world.

On tour from the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, the Cardiff exhibition will include a new addition to the collection.

Dhiraj Singh  The Collection of Howard Hodgkin
Dhiraj Singh © The Collection of Howard Hodgkin

 

A large scale temple hanging painted on cloth, showing four young maidens dancing in a forest, is a recently discovered missing pair to a similar work that has been in the Hodgkin collection for many years. The two hangings will be exhibited together for the first time in Cardiff. 

Some of the works in the collection vividly evoke the urban or daily life of India, a country which has inspired Hodgkin on his frequent visits made during the last 50 years.

There is also great diversity in the pictures, some containing passages or juxtapositions of colour, as can also be found in Hodgkin’s own work. But many others are lightly coloured brush drawings which show an expressive mastery of line.

Above all, this is a personal collection, formed by an artist’s eye. Hodgkin – who represented Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1984, won the Turner Prize in 1985, and was knighted in 1992 – has been a passionate collector of Indian paintings since his school days.

At times he has devoted almost as much effort to developing his collection as to his own work as a painter.

“These pictures have been chosen because I thought they were beautiful, because they touched my emotions, and not for any scholarly purposes. It is a collection made by an artist,” he says.

Born in London in 1932, Hodgkin was educated at Eton College and then at Bryanston School in Dorset. He later studied at the Camberwell Art School and at the Bath Academy of Art in Corsham, where Edward Piper studied drawing under him.

His early paintings tend to be made up of hard-edged curved forms in a limited number of colours.

Around the beginning of the 1970s, Hodgkin’s style became more spontaneous, with vaguely recognisable shapes presented in bright colours and bold forms. His works may then be called “semi-abstract”, and are often compared to the paintings of Henri Matisse.

Lady Singing  The Collection of Howard Hodgkin
Lady Singing © The Collection of Howard Hodgkin

 

Artistic quality has always mattered most to Hodgkin – the narrative content and other aspects of paintings far less.

His Indian pictures to be displayed in Cardiff include illustrations of epics and myths, royal portraits and many scenes of court life or hunting scenes. There is also a large group of elephant portraits and studies of the Mughal and Kota schools.

“My collection has been seen before but it’s since grown considerably,” he admits. “Now I’m struck all over again by its quality. I never bought paintings or drawings on the tempting but distracting basis of their topography, their school of art, their theme, period or style. I just wanted great art.”

Visions of Mughal India: The Collection of Howard Hodgkin is on show at National Museum Cardiff from today until November 3

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