New Emissary

The Indian Portrait

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New Emissary

The Indian Portrait

A global art report today from London on a unique collection of Indian portraits.

Global Art Report

(This is the first in a series of dispatches exploring Asian art in the UK by Diplomat editorial assistant, Amy Foulds.)

The Indian Portrait 1560-1860

It seems surprising that this exhibition is the first ever dedicated to Indian portraiture, given the richness and vibrancy of both colour and detail I found in the images on my visit, and considering the importance of the social and historical commentary of the 300 years of cultural development they represent.

The 60 portraits on display are drawn from collections all over the world, and range from lavish formal portraits of Mughal Emperors to candid studies of courtiers and the European influence of the East India Company—all with a realistic quality that belie the flattened perspective.

Another thing I found interesting was the incredible complexity and intricacy in the patterns featured on the clothing, rugs, wallpapers and borders in the pieces. This, combined with the various colours and golden accents, actually reminded me of the more contemporary world of Bollywood.

What’s amazing is that none of the works seem to have lost their original lustre, and they have an overall depth and freshness that make it truly difficult to believe their age. After having seen the exhibit, I’d have to wholeheartedly agree with gallery director Sandy Nairne’s description of the pieces as being ‘wrought with dazzling skill and technical brilliance.’

The only element that disrupted my enjoyment a little is that some of the works are originally from books, and so seem a little incongruous framed on a gallery wall.

The Indian Portrait 1560-1860 is currently showing at the National Portrait Gallery in London until June 20. Admission is free.

Image: Painting by Kunwar Anop Singh of Devgarh riding with a falcon, Devgarh, Mewar, Rajasthan, attributed to Bakhta, c1776 Museum Rietberg Zurich. Gift of Dr. Carlo Fleischmann Foundation and acquisition. © Museum Rietberg Zurich. Photo: Wettstein & Kauf