Smithsonian’s Freer|Sackler and the Cleveland Museum of Art Acquire Exceptional Collection of North Indian Court Paintings

October 1, 2018
News Release
viewing eclipse

Detail, Krishna and his family admire a solar eclipse; F2017.13.5

This year, more than 200 Rajput and Pahari paintings from the prestigious Catherine Glynn Benkaim and Ralph Benkaim Collection have been divided between two public museums, the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA), making them both significant repositories of Indian court painting from the 1600s to 1800s.

The paintings were acquired as a gift/purchase, a generous gesture by Catherine Glynn Benkaim and her partner Barbara Timmer, making the acquisitions possible for each museum. The collection as a whole comprises representative examples of paintings made for royal patrons in the Rajput kingdoms mainly from the present-day states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh and the Pahari kingdoms in Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh. The scenes reference epic, religious and romantic literature, as well as formal portraiture, devotional themes, royal hunts and historical events.

“Working together with the Freer|Sackler leadership and Catherine Benkaim, the Cleveland Museum of Art forged a partnership in which the two great institutions, whose collections of the arts of India are renowned, will share these marvelous holdings,” said William Griswold, CMA director. “In Cleveland, this grouping will complement the 2013 acquisition of the Benkaim Mughal and Deccan paintings. CMA’s collection of Indian paintings is now parallel to our exceptional holdings of Indian sculpture.”

“These paintings represent a remarkable opportunity to generate new knowledge,” said Debra Diamond, Freer|Sackler curator of South and Southeast Asian Art. “Scholars of Indian art are increasingly exploring issues of circulation, reception and shared cultural traditions. With the Benkaim Collection, the two museums will be at the center of this exciting development in scholarship.” 

Paintings from all the relevant Rajput and Pahari courts were selected by Diamond and Sonya Rhie Mace, the George P. Bickford Curator of Indian and Southeast Asian Art at CMA. Close to 100 paintings have entered the Freer|Sackler collection and 121 works have been acquired by the CMA. Rajput and Pahari images, painted with mineral colors on paper, are celebrated for their vivid palette, intricate details heightened with gold and evocative imagery. Typically, Rajput and Pahari paintings are held in the hand and viewed from an intimate distance. In addition, the Benkaim collection is also notably rich in large paintings on paper and cloth. It has long been a destination for scholars and students, and many of the works have been widely published, exhibited and extolled for their high quality and importance to the field.

 Highlights of the Freer|Sackler acquisition include “The Poet Sundar Das before the Emperor Shah Jahan,” attributed to Nainsukh, one of the greatest Indian painters of the 18th century, and a dynamic hunt scene depicting Raja Umed Singh shooting tigers, by the Kota artist Hans Raj Joshi. In Cleveland, the group includes the powerful painting, “The Goddess Kali Standing on a Mountaintop,” from the Pahari kingdom of Mandi and an intense image of royal lovers attributed to the celebrated Mewar artist Chokha, who was active during the early 19th century in the Rajput court of Mewar in Rajasthan.

The paintings acquired by the Freer|Sackler and the CMA complement the museums’ goals for developing engaging and innovative ways of exploring art collections digitally. All of the paintings will be digitally available in high resolution to the public. In addition, both institutions will create an in-depth digital resource on Indian painting that will include, among other features, images of the backs of each painting, translations of the texts and links to related collections.

“We are thrilled that in addition to the anticipated collaboration between these two important institutions, this collection will now be in the public domain, curated and exhibited with love and care,” said Catherine Glynn Benkaim.

Catherine Glynn Benkaim, who publishes under the name of Catherine Glynn, is a highly respected scholar in the field of Indian painting. In 2008, she co-curated, along with Debra Diamond and Karni Singh Jasol, “Garden and Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur,” which was awarded the College Art Association’s Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Award for best exhibition catalog of 2008. 

Ralph Benkaim (1914–2001) was an entertainment lawyer from Los Angles who started collecting Indian and Islamic art in 1961. Together they created a fine collection of Indian paintings, which included examples from all genres. Works from the newly acquired Benkaim Collection of Rajput and Pahari paintings will be on view at both institutions as of Sept. 30.

About the Freer|Sackler

The Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art and the adjacent Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., together comprise the nation’s museums of Asian art. It contains one of the most important collections of Asian art in the world, featuring more than 40,000 objects ranging in time from the Neolithic to the present day, with especially fine groupings of Islamic art, Chinese jades, bronzes and paintings and the art of the ancient Near East. The Freer|Sackler also contains important masterworks from Japan, ancient Egypt, South and Southeast Asia and Korea, as well as the Freer’s noted collection of works by American artist James McNeill Whistler.

The Freer|Sackler is part of the Smithsonian Institution, the world’s largest museum, education and research complex, which is dedicated to the increase and diffusion of knowledge.

About the Cleveland Museum of Art

The Cleveland Museum of Art is renowned for the quality and breadth of its collection, which includes more than 45,000 objects and spans 6,000 years of achievement in the arts. The museum is a significant international forum for exhibitions, scholarship, performing arts and art education. One of the top comprehensive art museums in the nation and free of charge to all, the Cleveland Museum of Art is located in the dynamic University Circle neighborhood. For more information about the museum, its holdings, programs and events, call 888-CMA-0033 or visit ClevelandArt.org.

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Megan Krefting

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kreftingm@si.edu

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