CENTREFOLD / Small is beautiful: Indian miniatures selected by one of contemporary art's giants

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Anyone familiar with Howard Hodgkin's small, jewel-like abstract paintings will have no trouble in making the connection with the selection from the artist's own collection of Indian miniatures, now on show at the British Museum. Many years in the making, Hodgkin's holding of paintings and drawings spans three centuries of the art form, following it through its various guises of religious, martial and courtly iconography. While the core of the collection is made up by what is probably the largest privately owned group of works from the important Rajasthani school of Kotah, it also includes fine examples of paintings from the Punjab Hills and the Pahari and Deccani schools. Of particular importance are a 17th-century Mughal drawing of Iltifat Khan - the only known likeness of this renowned courtier - and several portraits of 18th-century Punjabi potentates.

Whether they are of Maharajahs, concubines or hunting elephants (a particular favourite of Hodgkin's), each one of these paintings is a fascinating commentary on a vanished golden age of Indian courtly life. And moreover, in addition to this documentary role, it is possible to view these exquisite objects from a contemporary perspective. In the irrepressible vitality and spatial integrity of these pictures, the keen-eyed viewer will detect, along with the richness of palette, other qualities which echo their owner's approach to his own work. This is a unique exhibition which, apart from introducing its audience to a too-little-known artistic tradition, also offers us the chance of a rare glimpse into the taste and aesthetic sensibility of one of Britain's leading painters.

Images of India 1850-1900 British Museum. To 3 Jul.

(Photograph omitted)