Seattle Art Museum Exhibition Presents Rare Paintings from India

Newly discovered 17th- and 18th-century art on display through April 2009

The pioneering exhibition Garden and Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur presents little known, large-scale images from the 17th–19th centuries that convey an unsurpassed intensity of artistic vision in Rajasthan art. During an international tour, Garden and Cosmos will be on view in the Seattle Asian Art Museum’s South Galleries Jan. 29 through April 26, 2009.

Marwar-Jodhpur, the largest of the former Rajput kingdoms (in the modern state of Rajasthan in northwest India), was ruled by the Rathore Rajputs, a princely caste of warriors who became great patrons of art in the 17th to19th centuries. Here, the great fort Mehrangarh overlooks the capital city of Jodhpur, where it served generations of rulers not only as a military base but also as a complex of temples, courtyards and palaces and a center of music and art.

The elaborate paintings on view in Garden and Cosmos come to Seattle from the Mehrangarh fort's present-day museum, thanks to the generosity of the Mehrangarh Trust, headed by Maharaja Gaj Singh II of Jodhpur, lender of the fifty-five paintings from the desert palace at Nagaur that form the centerpiece of the exhibition. Created for the private enjoyment of the Jodhpur maharajas, these paintings include thirty-three richly-adorned, four-foot-wide folios from 19th century “monumental manuscripts,” which demonstrate how yogic philosophy and practice changed the focus of art patronage, resulting in a surprisingly “modern,” sublimely minimal aesthetic. Ten 17th-century Jodhpur paintings borrowed from museum collections in India, Europe, Australia and the U.S. reveal the idiom from which these innovations of later Jodhpur painting emerged.

Despite striking innovations in scale, subject matter and style, virtually none of the paintings in Garden and Cosmos have been published and most have been seen by only a handful of scholars since their creation. The clear development of court painting in this region from the 17th through 19th centuries is explicit in the 57 total works on view, and specifically traces the area’s political history, as its rule changed hands from the early 18th through mid 19th centuries – often by means of scandalous usurpation or divine inspiration.

Painting in a palette of rich colors and elaborately decorative patterns, court artists depicted Maharaja Bakhat Singh (reigned 1725-51) sporting with his harem in fantastic gardens. Painters replaced images of royal luxury with visions of heavenly landscapes populated by Hindu deities such as Krishna and Rama during Maharaja Vijai Singh's reign (reigned 1752-93). Artists working for Vijai Singh's grandson Maharaja Man Singh (reigned 1803-1843) were challenged to create images of metaphysical concepts and yoga narratives, such as the origins of the cosmos, reflecting the ruler’s devotion to an esoteric yogic tradition.

Garden and Cosmos was curated by Debra Diamond, associate curator of South and Southeast Asian art at the Freer and Sackler galleries, in association with Karni Singh Jasol, curator of the Mehrangarh Fort Museum in Jodhpur, India; and Catherine Glynn, an independent scholar of Rajput painting. The installation at the Seattle Art Museum was curated by Josh Yiu, the Foster Foundation Associate Curator of Asian Art.

The exhibition debuted at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington, D.C., on Oct. 11, 2008, and it continues through Jan. 4, 2009. Following its presentation at SAM, the exhibition travels to the British Museum May 18 through Aug. 23, 2009 and the National Museum of India, New Delhi, where it opens in fall 2009.

Accompanying the exhibition is a 352-page, fully illustrated catalog containing more than 100 full-color images and individual essays by noted scholars assessing new and recent discoveries of each work presented in Garden and Cosmos. An audio guide produced by Narrowcasters, which features narration by the exhibition curator and the current Maharaja of Marwar-Jodhpur, along with music and poetry readings that relate to the paintings, accompanies the exhibition.