One of the world's finest private collections of Indian "miniature" paintings will be presented for the first time in its entirety next spring when Intimate Worlds: Masterpieces of Indian Painting from the Alvin O. Bellak Collection opens at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. From March 2 to April 29, 2001, some 90 paintings and drawings created in workshops across India over the course of five centuries will be on view, together with a selection of Dr. Bellak's superb Indian metal vessels.
The exhibition spans the period from before the rise of Islamic Mughal rule in northern India during the 1500s to the heyday of the British Raj in the late 19th century. There are vivid illustrations of Hindu, Muslim, and Jain religious stories; visions of life at court; solemn and satyrical portraits; evocations of the pleasures of love; and depictions of superhuman horror. The viewer can explore the lively styles created for the Hindu Rajput courts, the acute observations of the Mughals who built the Taj Mahal, and the dreamscapes of the south-central Deccan sultans. Featured are the robust compositions of Rajasthan and the delicate idealism of the Panjab Hills in the Himalayas north of Delhi. Not only do these works highlight the indigenous art that flourished in India but also the remarkable stylistic developments that emerged when artists of one culture became exposed to others. Dr. Bellak, who created the collection over the past three decades, has promised it as a bequest to the Museum-a gift that will enable the Museum to become one of the foremost repositories of Indian miniature painting in the United States.
Anne d'Harnoncourt, Director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, said: "We are delighted to share with our visitors, during our 125th anniversary year, Dr. Bellak's remarkable vision and accomplishment as a collector. His unusual generosity underscores and greatly enhances the strength of the Museum's Indian holdings. Like the example of Carl Otto Von Kienbusch in the 1970s, who bequeathed his esteemed collection of arms and armor to the Museum, Dr. Bellak's philanthropy is ultimately a gift to the city, the region, and the diverse audiences we serve. It points to the Museum's promise, to its growth in the century ahead."
"One by one, these intimately-scaled paintings add up to an astonishing panorama," added Darielle Mason, the Museum's Stella Kramrisch Curator of Indian and Himalayan Art. "From the high drama of an elephant fight or a great flying demon kidnapping an infant god, to the most tender encounters of the human and the divine, the exhibition raises the curtain on the lives, imaginings, and ideals of India's kings and courtiers. It is fascinating to witness here the transformation of artistic expression over time, beginning with the blending of Persian and even European forms with indigenous traditions and ending with the struggle of painting to compete with the new medium of photography."
A Trustee of the Museum since 1995, Dr. Bellak is a longtime Philadelphia resident who received his Ph.D. in clinical psychology at Penn State University. He worked in corporate consulting with Hay Group, where he was general partner heading the firm's worldwide management compensation business. When Dr. Bellak began collecting in the mid-1970s, he set out to illustrate the history of Indian painting, drawn to works luscious in detail, magnificent in color, unusual and often playful in subject.
The exhibition's title is taken from an invitation to "Enter Madhava's intimate world." These words, from a 12th century devotional love poem, The Gita Govinda (Lovesong of the Dark Lord), are written on one of the paintings in the collection and suggest the small scale of pictures that evoke the inner world of Indian courtly and religious life. The exhibition is organized both chronologically and by region, highlighting rich visual relationships and moments of stylistic foment within various artistic communities and workshops and rich dialogues of expression spurred by artists of different cultures working side by side. Among the images produced for the Jains, whose faith emerged about the 6th century BC, is one of the earliest works on paper created in the Indian Subcontinent. The sumptuous late 14th century manuscript page from western India, highlighted with precious lapis lazuli and gold pigments, shows a royal couple engaged in lively conversation. It's a rare example of the new papermaking technology imported by Islamic merchants and conquerors.
More than 30 of the images featured are from the northern Panjab Hills, an area that became known for its poignant landscapes and idyllic scenes. Among them, however, is one of India's single most horrific narratives, the bold and intensely hued Goddess Kali Slaying Demons (1720-25) showing the destructive manifestations of the Hindu goddess, naked except for a belt of bloody human arms and jewelry made of tiny severed heads. She is seen gleefully brandishing her sword over a pile of demon bodies, severed necks spurting blood.
The exhibition includes many works that illustrate, metaphorically, through touching presentations of amorous engagement, the mystical relationship of the Hindu divine and the individual soul. One of them, also in illustration of The Gita Govinda, shows Krishna and Radha joining together passionately in a landscape epitomizing the ideal world created by Panjab Hills painting in the late 18th century.
The exhibition also features about 35 courtly paintings originating from kingdoms and fiefdoms in what's now the modern state of Rajasthan. Among the most singular is a pair of mid-18th century portraits showing a stout nobleman who was actually implicated in a plot to usurp the throne. In the first painting, a golden sash worn around his white clothing disappears beneath his exceptional girth. In the second, he appears in a humiliating light, barefoot and stripped to the waist, providing an amusing insight into courtly spite.
Intimate Worlds is made possible by the Pew Charitable Trust.
A handsome catalogue will accompany the exhibition. Published by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and copublished in Asia with Mapin Publishing, Ahmedabad, it is distributed by Art Media Resources, Chicago. Intimate Worlds: Indian Painting from the Alvin O. Bellak Collection contains a discussion of India's courtly painting by Darielle Mason, reflections on collecting by Alvin O. Bellak, and entries on each of the works in the exhibition. The book features essays by B. N. Goswamy, treating the relationship of artists and their patrons; John Seyller, exploring hierarchies of taste; and Terence McInerney, focusing on the history of collecting Indian art. It contains 234 pages, with 94 color and 50 black-and-white reproductions, and a map of the Indian Subcontinent. It is available in the Museum store ($55 clothbound; $30 softcover), or by calling (800) 329-4856 or via the Museum's website at www.philamuseum.org.
The Museum will offer a lively mix of related programs, including an art history course beginning March 1, 2001; a lecture on Indian painting by B. N. Goswamy (2:30 p.m., March 2, 2001); a dance performance created around themes of the paintings by the renowned Mallika Sarabhai (2:30 p.m., March 4, 2001); a family day celebration of India (March 11, 2001, 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.) and a Wednesday Night program featuring dance and poetry (March 21, 5:30 p.m.-8:45 p.m). For information, call 215-783-8100.