Howard Hodgkin’s obsession with Indian art of the Mughal period (c.1560–1858) predates his career as a painter – he acquired his first Mughal work while still in short trousers, aged fourteen. Today his collection of approximately 115 paintings is considered one of the finest of its kind in private hands. This Sunday is the last opportunity to see the collection in its entirety, when its presentation comes to an end at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum.
Hodgkin’s holdings include world-class works from all the main styles of Mughal art. There are examples of the Persian-influenced illuminated manuscripts created by the imperial court, including three lustrous leaves from the early masterpiece of the Mughal period, the Hamzanama series commissioned by Emperor Akbar (1542–1605).
But some of the most interesting works on view were produced outside the court, in the Deccan and Rajasthan regions for example, where the refined imperial aesthetic was fused with indigenous Indian styles that were often more bold and less naturalistic. The intensity of colour in the intriguing series of Pahari illustrations known as the Ragamala (see above) is similar to that found in Hodgkin’s abstract canvases.
Sam Phillips is a London-based arts journalist and contributor to RA Magazine