Maharaja Jaswant Singh I at a Music Performance during a Monsoon, Jodhpur, ca. 1670, Opaque watercolor and gold on paper, H x W: 26.8 x 17.4 cm. ELS2008.2.4. Credit: National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia, Felton Bequest, 1980.

LONDON.- Garden and Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur is a rare opportunity to view a unique type of Indian royal court painting ranging in date from the 17th-19th centuries. The exhibition will feature an exceptional loan from India and will be made up of 54 paintings from the royal collection at the Mehrangarh Museum Trust in Jodhpur, which was set up by the current maharaja, Gaj Singh II, in 1972. Remarkably, none of these paintings has ever previously been seen in Europe. Garden and Cosmos will explore the two distinct styles of painting which flourished over the period represented in the exhibition – on the one hand the ornate style depicting the temporal pleasures of courtly life and the verdant forests where scenes from the epics took place (‘Garden’) and, on the other, the metaphysical paintings concerned with philosophical speculation and the origin of the universe (‘Cosmos’).

The 54 large format works on loan from the Mehrangarh Museum Trust are specific to the Jodhpur region and are not found elsewhere in Rajasthan. The paintings were created for the personal pleasure of the maharajas who ruled over this part of north-western India. As such, they represent the varying aesthetic tastes and differing political and spiritual views of three generations at the Jodhpur court.

The first part of the exhibition centres on the paintings created for Bakhat Singh (1725-1751), depicting the pleasures of the royal court – the prince is shown in his fort-palace at Nagaur with its lush gardens surrounded by flowering forest; this section also includes vibrant illustrations of the great Indian epics, especially of the Ramayana. In this category the two paintings which show the crashing monsoon storms and the crossing to Lanka are especially thrilling.

The second part of the exhibition focuses on the paintings which originated during the long reign of Maharaja Man Singh (1803–1843), Bakhat Singh’s great-grandson. A fervent devotee of the Nath yogis, a religious sect, he commissioned more than 1,000 paintings to illustrate metaphysical concepts – and also to establish the political legitimacy of this esoteric group. In their subject matter, the paintings turn away from the glowing exterior world of court life and instead address the interior world of philosophical speculation and the origin of the universe. The new subject matter naturally demanded new artistic approaches. In painting after painting, the artists of this era demonstrate incredible versatility in their attempts to represent Hindu concepts and texts visually.

Thus, the paintings in this extraordinary exhibition, ranging from glorious gardens in desert palaces to opulent images of cosmic origins, depict the political, cultural and spiritual vitality of Jodhpur and indicate the sophisticated way in which artists conveyed profound spiritual conceptions. Although the precise meaning of some of the final paintings is unclear, the large fields of distinctive, brilliantly coloured wave patterns remind the viewer that surrender to blocks of pulsating colour is not a 20th century western invention.

Garden and Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur is organised by the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, in collaboration with the Mehrangarh Museum Trust. The exhibition will also feature two important paintings loaned from the National Museum in Delhi and two paintings from the British Museum’s own collection.

Richard Blurton, Curator, Department of Asia at the British Museum, said: “Court paintings of this subject matter, intense colour juxtaposition – and size – are exceptionally rare. This exhibition will provide an unrivalled opportunity for visitors to the British Museum to encounter and understand this body of work, and experience the summation of many ideas of the Indian painting tradition – vibrant colour, a stirring of the inner emotions and a celebration of a spiritual voyage of subtlety and fulfilment.”

Stephen Green, Group Chairman, HSBC Holdings plc, said: 'Garden and Cosmos is a wonderful celebration of India’s culture and its natural environment. HSBC’s support of Indian Summer at the British Museum reflects our commitment to Cultural Exchange, which seeks to encourage and promote the understanding of different cultures across the world. As a bank with a global presence and a wide network, especially in the UK and India, HSBC sees this as a key opportunity to further cement the ties between these two countries.'

Indian Summer
May to October 2009 - The British Museum and HSBC present Indian Summer, a season dedicated to Indian culture featuring a unique programme of exhibitions, installations, performances, lectures and film screenings. HSBC is the sponsor of the season that includes: Garden and Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur, an exhibition which provides a rare opportunity to view paintings of outstanding interest and variety that have never previously been seen in Europe; India Landscape, a specially commissioned space presenting Indian biodiversity in the Museum’s forecourt, in collaboration with Kew Gardens; and a rich and varied public programme.


Maharaja Bakhat Singh and Zenana Women, Savor the Moonlight Evening. Attributed here to “Artist 3”, Nagaur, ca. 1748–50, Opaque watercolor and gold on paper, H x W: 45.4 x 63.5 cm, ELS2008.2.75 (Cat. 19), Image Credit: Mehrangarh Museum Trust. (Detail)