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the-south-asian Life & Times                     April - June 2010

 

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The Indian Portrait 1560-1860

11 March - 20 June 2010
National Portrait Gallery, London


A group of courtesans - National Portrait Gallery

An exclusive exhibition of Indian portraits the first of its kind in the UK - opened at the National Portrait Gallery on March 11, 2010. The sixty works of art - drawn from public and private collections in the UK, USA and Europe - range from formal portraits of the Mughal emperors to studies of courtiers and ordinary men and women, and tell the story of the Indian portrait over three centuries - ways in which Indian artists have approached the depiction of the human form and the changing role of portraiture in Indian history. The distinctive regional styles from Rajasthan and the Punjab Hills are shown alongside the European-influenced works produced by Indian artists under British rule.

Developing from its origins at the Mughal court under the emperor Akbar in the sixteenth century, portraiture spread to the sultanates of the Deccan and to the kingdoms in Rajasthan and the Punjab Hills. In all of these regions, distinctively local styles were overlaid on essentially Mughal prototypes until European influence became dominant during the so-called Company period, when Western concepts of realism were applied by Indian artists to local subjects.

The Indian portrait is thus the sophisticated product of indigenous development and foreign influence. The exhibition demonstrates how the Indian portrait stands shoulder to shoulder with the best examples of portraiture from around the world.

These paintings are a record of a rich and complex history, embracing influences from Iran and Europe as well as local Hindu and Muslim traditions. They not only show a growing self-awareness of how Indians saw themselves, but also how they wished to be seen.

More in the print edition

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