Howard Hodgkin’s (1932-2017) collection of Indian paintings includes works created at the Mughal, Deccan, Rajput, and Pahari courts dating from the 16th to the 19th century. It presents a unique and personal vision of India’s great painting traditions. The artist Howard Hodgkin had been a devoted collector of Indian paintings since his schooldays in the late 1940s. He first encountered Indian paintings as a student at school, which was later fostered by a chance encounter in London, in 1959, with Stuart Cary Welch, the great American scholar and collector of Indian art, rekindled his passion. Progressively refined over the years, his collection has grown slowly but steadily, and has long been considered one of the finest in the world. It is above all a personal collection, formed by an artist’s eye.

The Howard Hodgkin Collection comprises most of the main Indian court styles that flourished during the Mughal period (circa 1560-1858): the refined naturalistic works of the imperial Mughal court, the poetic and subtly -coloured paintings of the Deccani Sultanates, the bolder Rajput styles at the courts of the Hindu Maharajas in the Punjab Hills and Rajasthan. And there was his love of elephant subjects, from the serene imperial elephant portraits by Mughal artists to the powerful action studies from Kota in Rajasthan.

The Met Acquires Works from the Howard Hodgkin Collection

In 2022, The Met announced a major acquisition of more than 80 drawings and paintings from the Howard Hodgkin Collection which has resulted in this latest show at the museum, which also includes works newly acquired by the institution and loans. Arranged in a chronological sequence and by school, the show starts with the earliest works from 16th-century Mughal India and related Deccani works, followed by the later Rajput and Pahari schools.

A highlight is a suite or ragamala paintings from Himanchal Pradesh, created in the 1680s-1720. Each of these paintings gives visual expression to a different raga (musical composition designed to evoke a particular mood or passion), and belongs to a specific season and time of day. They were kept as an unbound suite of pictures secured in a portfolio to be viewed for personal pleasure and, probably, shared with intimate partners.

The Hindu Courts of Rajathan

Paintings from the Hindu courts of Rajasthan, and those from the Pahari region of Himachal Pradesh, represent two very different cultural traditions, as well as completely different geographical locations – from desert to mountains. The repertoire of Rajput and Pahari court painting revolved around portraiture and the depiction of a private inner world. Many are devoted to the pursuit of the pleasures afforded by court life, others to displays of chivalry and bravery in hunting, and some to private acts of devotion.

Displays of prowess and valour were favoured, as can be seen in this image of Sangaram Singh Hawking  (r 1710-34), from circa 1705-10, one of the earliest Rajput paintings devoted to hawking along with the depiction of Maharana Amar Singh (1698-1710) Hunting Saurus Crane, circa 1700. Both images were painted by an artist known as ‘The Stipple Master of Udaipur’, who was active under the patronage of  both Amar Singh II and Sangram Singh. A subdued palette applied with stippling (most evident in the treatment of the horse) evokes the European grisaille technique introduced via Mughal art.

Elephant Paintings in the Howard Hodgkin Collection

A third space is given over to the celebration of the elephant paintings, which span all schools. An example for this section is Elephant with Kepper, circa 1660. Mughal elephant portraits are notable for their outstanding observation of these majestic animals, dignifying them by recording every feature with the sensitivity typically accorded high courtiers. The elephant is untethered, a sign of its maturity and trustworthiness, and is caparisoned with trappings and bells, along with sacred markings on the face. The Bulletin, the quarterly publication of the museum has devoted its Spring 2024 issue to the exhibition.

On show until 9 June, 2024, Indian Skies: The Howard Hodgkin Collection of Indian Court Painting, The Metropolitan Museum of Art,