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Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art brings the spotlight on royal Indian art with new exhibition

The exhibition presents a new way of thinking about and viewing Indian paintings that reveal how artists conveyed emotions and ecologies in groundbreaking ways.

September 20, 2022: In the 18th century, the artists of Udaipur shifted their focus from small poetic manuscripts to large-scale paintings of the city’s palaces, lakes, mountains and seasons. They sought to convey the bhava, the emotional tenor and sensorial experiences, that make places and times memorable. This was unlike anything else in Indian art. Paintings of that era express themes of belonging and prosperous futures that are universal. 

Udaipur Indian Art Smithsonian exhibition
 
Presented in collaboration with The City Palace Museum in Udaipur and administered by The Maharana of Mewar Charitable Foundation, The National Museum of Asian Art is offering “A Splendid Land: Paintings from Royal Udaipur,” a major survey of works from the lake city of Udaipur in Rajasthan, India, from November 19, 2022 to May 14, 2023. 
 
On view at Washington D.C., the exhibition explores the environmental, political and emotional contexts in which the new genre emerged. Udaipur’s economy depended on annual monsoons, extensive water harvesting and securing the loyalty of nobles and allies. By celebrating regional abundance and courtly refinement, the paintings strengthened friendships in the changing political landscapes of early modern South Asia. 
 
The exhibition brings together 63 works on paper, cotton and scrolls from collections worldwide to reveal how artists sought to convey the sensory and lived experience of the lake city. Many of the paintings have never been publicly exhibited or published. Curated by Debra Diamond (Elizabeth Moynihan Curator for South Asian and Southeast Asian Art at the National Museum of Asian Art) and Dipti Khera (associate professor at New York University), “A Splendid Land” will be on view in the museum’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. It is the first in a series of exhibitions celebrating the National Museum of Asian Art’s centennial in 2023.

Udaipur Indian Art Smithsonian exhibition
 
“The National Museum of Asian Art has a rich history of connecting visitors with South Asian arts and cultures,” said Chase F. Robinson, Director of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Freer Gallery of Art. “Built upon a long-standing collaboration with Indian colleagues, the exhibition will allow the museum to bring extraordinary but little-known pieces to a global audience, enriching its understanding of a fascinating moment in India’s past.”
 
“A Splendid Land” is organised as a journey that begins at Udaipur’s centre and continues outward: first the lakes and lake palaces, then to the city, the countryside and finally to the cosmos. An ambient soundscape by the renowned experimental filmmaker Amit Dutta underscores the sensorial elements in the paintings, inviting contemporary audiences to sense—and not just see—the moods of these extraordinary places and paintings. 
 
“The exhibition structure directly responds to the visuality of the paintings and the historical goals of the artists,” said Ms. Diamond, a specialist in Indian court painting. “Each gallery centres upon the emotions engendered by a particular place or season. The sequence of immersive moods will heighten the sensorial experience of place for museum visitors.”

Traditional Rajasthani music band Raitila Rajasthan will present “Music of Splendid Land”, featuring songs inspired from themes of Udaipur paintings showcased at the exhibition.

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