Visions of Mughal India and Howard Hodgkin paintings at Aga Khan Museum, Toronto

Friday, April 3rd, 2015. Filed under: Art Canada Toronto

Maharaja Bakhat Singh of Nagaur, Jodhpur,Rajasthan, India, ca. 1735. Hodgkin Collection.

Two brilliant exhibitions on now at the Aga Khan Museum, Toronto, reveal British painter Howard Hodgkin’s lifelong fascination with India. Inspired by India: Paintings by Howard Hodgkin features the artist’s own work inspired by the energy, light and colours of India. Visions of Mughal India: The Collection of Howard Hodgkin displays extraordinary historical pieces from Hodgkin’s private collection. The shows will be displayed in tandem until June 21, 2015.

Two Floors Aga Khan Museum

Installation of exhibitions on second floor of the Aga Khan Museum.

Inspired by India: Paintings by Howard Hodgkin

Sir Howard Hodgkin is an important British artist you should know. He won the Turner Prize in 1985 and was knighted in 1992. At first glance his vivid, gestural paintings appear abstract. But a clue to the artist’s intent lies in the descriptive titles he gives his work.  In a 2014 Guardian article, Hodgkin “insists that every slither of luscious colour refers to a particular place and time. His serpentine brushwork is not decorative. Each painting has a ‘subject’, as he puts it.”  Jonathan Jones, author of the Guardian article, said it well when he described Hodgkin’s paintings as “blasts of emotion…sensual songs to the joys of being alive.”

Autumn in Bombay

Autumn in Bombay, oil on wood, 2010-14, Howard Hodgkin.

Born in 1932, Hodgkin decided to become an artist at age 5. Hodgkin made his first trip to India in the early 1960s, spending much time there over the next fifty years, using sales of his own paintings to fund purchases of historical Indian art. “For Hodgkin, collecting and creating art are inseparable activities,” says Aga Khan Museum Associate Curator Filiz Çakır Phillip. The Aga Khan Museum exhibitions are the first opportunity ever to see Hodgkin’s paintings and collection side by side.

In the Garden of the Bombay Museum

In the Garden of the Bombay Museum, oil on wood, 1978-82, Howard Hodgkin.

Visions of Mughal India: The Collection of Howard Hodgkin

My jaw truly dropped when I began exploring Hodgkin’s collection of Indian art from the 16th to 19th centuries. Produced in the Mughal court, the Deccani Sultanates and the Rajput kingdoms, these relatively small-scale paintings seemed to me cinematic with narrative, movement and epic ‘casts’.

Maharaja Raj Singh

The hunt is celebrated, and the stage-by-stage killing of a bird by a maharaja’s hawk depicted, in the brush drawing Maharaja Raj Singh and his Elephants, Sawar, Rajasthan, India, 1710-15.

Behind a wedding procession through a bazaar, one glimpses bottles and food piled high on stalls. Shooting and picnicking parties enjoy a day out around a lovely lake. Courtiers sniff spring flowers in a marble-walled garden. Emperors hold court, girls dance, maharajas and their sons parade on elephants, beards, pearl earrings, textiles all minutely detailed with brushes that often held only one hair.

Durbar of Akbar Shah II

Durbar of Akbar Shah II, Delhi, India, 1820-30.  How did these fragile works survive the centuries?  Many were bound into albums.

Durbar detail

Detail, Durbar of Akbar Shah II, Delhi, India, 1820-30. Opaque watercolor and gold on paper.

Visions of Mughal India is a window on a sumptuous, vanished world that prized pageantry, nature and beauty. Some of my personal favorites in the show were not available as images to display here. These incredibly detailed works simply must be seen in person. I’ll end with a quote by Howard Hodgkin:

*In Indian painting I have found much that for me could be found nowhere else, but I cannot tell you what — I can only metaphorically wave my hands at the pictures — and say ‘look’!”

Botanical Study

Botanical Study of a Composite Flower, Mughal, northern India, ca. 1630.

Visions of Mughal India: The Collection of Howard Hodgkin and Inspired by India: Paintings by Howard Hodgkin will be on at the Aga Khan Museum, Toronto, until June 21, 2015.  See the museum’s website for museum hours, tickets and exhibition-related programming and concerts.  Admission to the museum is free on Wednesdays from 4 to 8 p.m.

NEW:  Have a Toronto Public Library card?  The Aga Khan Museum has joined Toronto Public Library’s Sun Life Financial Museum + Arts Pass (MAP) program. The MAP program offers five passes per week at 50 library branches across Toronto and grants a free family pass for two adults and three children to the Museum. MAP passes are available from Toronto Public Library branches using a valid adult library card. For more on the MAP program and list of library branches that offer the Aga Khan Museum passes, see

Aga Khan Museum, Toronto

The Aga Khan Museum is a new cultural landmark located in east Toronto.


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