On Saturday, 27 July 2013, Visions of Mughal India: The Collection of Howard Hodgkin – an exhibition of Indian paintings from the exceptional private collection of one of Britain’s most celebrated artists, Howard Hodgkin – opened at National Museum Cardiff in Wales.
The collection, never shown in Wales before, comprised most of the main types of Indian court painting that flourished during the Mughal period (c. 1550–1850) e.g. the refined naturalistic works of the imperial Mughal court; the poetic and subtly coloured paintings of the Deccani Sultanates; and 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, Oxford, this exhibition of Indian art will include an exciting new addition to the group of works. 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. These two beautiful 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 over some 50 years. There is also great diversity in these pictures, some containing exciting 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.
Howard Hodgkin said that these pictures have been chosen not for any scholarly purposes but because he thought they were beautiful, because they touched his emotions. It is a collection made by an artist. Artistic quality has always mattered most to Hodgkin – the narrative content and other aspects of paintings far less. All his Indian pictures are of an unusual or exceptional quality. They include illustrations of epics and myths, royal portraits and many scenes of court life or hunting scenes. There is also a large and outstanding group of elephant portraits and studies of the Mughal and Kota schools.