Garden and Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur

This exhibition forms part of Indian Summer – a season of exhibitions and events focusing on India. Indian Summer is sponsored by HSBC

28 May – 23 August 2009, now extended to 11 October 2009
Room 35
Admission charge

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.

For further information, please contact:

About Garden and Cosmos

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 travel to four venues:

  • Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 11 October 2008 – 4 January 2009
  • Seattle Art Museum, 29 January – 26 April 2009
  • British Museum, 28 May – 11 October 2009
  • National Museum of India, November 2009

This exhibition will take place at the British Museum in Room 35, admission charge.

About HSBC Cultural Exchange

As the world’s local bank, HSBC aims to encourage and promote the understanding of different cultures across the world through its Cultural Exchange programme. As an international financial services provider, HSBC has to operate across different cultures and knows first hand how important it is to appreciate and understand the different points of views and values of both its employees and clients, in order to build successful working relationships. HSBC therefore believes that Cultural Exchange can generate important business benefits. HSBC embraces Cultural Exchange in its widest sense; from fine art to cuisine, from language and literature to dance, street arts and all forms of music.

HSBC Holdings plc

HSBC Holdings plc, the parent company of the HSBC Group, is headquartered in London. The Group serves customers worldwide from around 9,500 offices in 86 countries and territories in Europe, the Asia-Pacific region, the Americas, the Middle East and Africa. With assets of US$2,527 billion at 31 December 2008, HSBC is one of the world’s largest banking and financial services organisations. HSBC is marketed worldwide as ‘the world’s local bank’.

About India Landscape

2 May – 28 September 2009
British Museum Forecourt, admission free
To complement the exhibition Garden and Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur, the British Museum is collaborating with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, to create an Indian-themed landscape on the Museum’s west lawn. The landscape will present a section through the immensely diverse habitats of the Indian subcontinent, taking visitors on a journey from the mountainous environment of the Himalayas, through a temperate region and ending in a sub-tropical zone centred on a pool filled with lotus flowers. The landscape will highlight the significance of plant use in Indian culture – as food, medicine and in trade and the way plants such as chilli (native to South America) have travelled and become completely indigenised. The landscape is the second in a series of five planned collaborations with Kew.

About the Public Programme

A rich and varied programme of events and activities, featuring public debates, lectures and talks by prominent Indian academics and artists, screenings of award-winning films as well as a wide range of family and educational activities will complement the exhibition. A special evening ‘Late’ event will focus on India, and visitors will be able to enjoy music and dance performances, food and drink tastings as well as interactive workshops.