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National Portrait Gallery Presents First Ever Exhibition Devoted to Indian Portraits
A group of courtesans, Delhi, c. 1820. © San Diego Museum of Art.

LONDON.- An important exhibition telling the story of the Indian portrait over three centuries will open at the National Portrait Gallery on 11 March 2010. Bringing together 60 works from international public and private collections, The Indian Portrait 1560-1860 will celebrate the beauty, power and humanity of these works of art. The exhibition sets out to show that Indian portraiture - an area of artistic achievement overlooked in Britain - should be seen alongside other outstanding portraits from around the world.

The works in the exhibition range from magnificent formal portraits of the Mughal emperors to penetrating studies of courtiers and holy men, as well as candid depictions by Indian artists of Europeans living in India. 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.

Important loans include: two pages from the Padshahnama made for Shah Jahan, now in the Royal Collection; a huge Mughal cloth painting of the Emperor Jahangir; and a pair of images of the Mughal courtier 'Inayat Khan close to death, which have never previously been shown together in the UK. There are also striking portraits such as those of Amar Singh II of Mewar taking his ease, and the Maratha general Ram Rao Phalke, which call for a re-examination of portraiture in India.

Sandy Nairne, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, London, says: 'These beautiful paintings offer glimpses into the cultures that have flourished in the Indian subcontinent, as well as authoritative images of captivating individuals living through the 300-year span of the exhibition. These exquisite depictions are wrought with dazzling skill and technical brilliance - as vivid likenesses of people, their surroundings and often radiant costumes. However formal the pose or setting, here are people brought to life with utter conviction.'

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

Exhibits have been assembled from several private collections as well as public institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Arts, New York, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the San Diego Museum of Art, the V&A, Musée Guimet, the David Collection, Copenhagen, the British Library, the British Museum and the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

The Indian Portrait 1560-1860 is curated by Rosemary Crill and Kapil Jariwala. Rosemary Crill is a Senior Curator at the Victoria & Albert Museum. Her publications include Chintz: Indian Textiles for the West and Marwar Painting. Kapil Jariwala is an independent curator whose recent publications include Cultural Ties and Film Fantastic: Indian Movie Poster Art.

Selected works and a trail by The Singh Twins will offer a contemporary response to the exhibition and the Gallery's permanent collection. Contemporary Connections: The Singh Twins in the Studio Gallery at the National Portrait Gallery will run simultaneously with The Indian Portrait 1560-1860. The London-born twin sisters are internationally acclaimed contemporary British artists whose award-winning paintings explore issues of social, political, religious and multicultural debate. Using a narrative, decorative, symbolic and witty 'Past Modern' (as opposed to Post Modern) style, they have initiated a new movement in the revival of the Indian miniature tradition within modern art practice. For more information on their work please go to:

To coincide with the exhibition, there is a rich season of events planned. Highlights include a Singh Twins masterclass; a major two-day international conference in partnership with the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), the first to focus on South Asian portraiture; and a contemporary South Asian literary season programmed with The Asian Word. Speakers include, Fatima Bhutto, Kamila Shamsie, Daniyal Mueenuddin and Neel Mukherjee who will explore a diverse range of contemporary issues and subjects including cultural identity and representation, migration and displacement, Kashmir, Pakistan and Indian crime fiction.

National Portrait Gallery | Indian Portraits | Rosemary Crill | Kapil Jariwala |

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