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Ashmolean announces Visions of Mughal India. The Collection of Howard Hodgkin

On 2 February 2012 the Ashmolean will open an exhibition of Indian paintings from the outstanding private collection of the artist Howard Hodgkin. Hodgkin has been a passionate collector of Indian paintings since his school days and his collection has long been considered one of the finest of its kind in the world. At times he has devoted almost as much effort to developing his collection as to his own work as a painter.

Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology

It will go on show at the Ashmolean for the first time in its entirety. The collection comprises most of the main types of Indian court painting that flourished during the Mughal period (c. 1550–1850), including 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 xxstyles of the Rajput kingdoms of Rajasthan and the Punjab Hills.

Above all, this is a personal collection, formed by an artist’s eye. 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 a large and outstanding group of elephant portraits and studies of the Mughal and Kota schools. 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.

A large part of Hodgkin’s collection has been on long-term loan to the Ashmolean for the last ten years and selected pictures have been shown in the Museum’s Indian galleries. Others have been lent by Howard Hodgkin especially for this exhibition. Many of the works which will be shown have never been exhibited to the public before.

“My collection has been seen before in an incomplete form but it’s since grown considerably. 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” said Howard Hodgkin.

Exhibition | 2 Feb–22 Apr 2012 | Galleries 59–60 | £6/£4 (including Gift Aid)

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