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First Look: Cleveland Museum of Art Acquires Unparalleled Benkaim Collection of Indian Art

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First Look: Cleveland Museum of Art Acquires Unparalleled Benkaim Collection of Indian Art

The Cleveland Museum of Art's Indian and Southeast Asian collection is rated as one of the leading collections in this area, both nationally and internationally. To add to its collection, the museum is pleased to announce a significant acquisition: the Benkaim Collection of Deccan and Mughal Paintings is an unparalleled private collection of 95 works from India’s major Islamic courts. The Benkaim Collection contains extremely rare folios and has been represented in many publications, exhibitions and research projects on Indian painting for the last several decades. The acquisition, made possible in part through the support of an anonymous donor, immediately elevates the museum to a world-class leader in this field. Nine of the works will be on view in the museum’s permanent collection galleries of Indian and Southeast Asian art, opening on December 31, 2013 as part of the grand opening festivities for the museum.

“Imperial Mughal painting of India has been a highly prized art form, celebrated for its international vision and exquisite refinement and sophistication,” said Sonya Quintanilla, George P. Bickford curator of Indian and Southeast Asian art. “The illustrated tales and luxurious album pages that reflect the taste and personalities of their imperial patrons have been a source of inspiration and delight to scholars and connoisseurs for centuries, both in Asia and the West.”

The works in the Benkaim Collection range in date from the 1550s, the very beginning of painting practice in the Mughal court, through the late 18th century. The collection also includes 15 paintings from the court ateliers of the Deccan, located in India’s southern regions, which are contemporaneous with the imperial Mughal centers to the north. This acquisition significantly expands the museum’s existing collection of Deccan and Mughal paintings and adds rare works of the highest quality and scholarly importance. Paintings will be rotated in the galleries twice a year, offering visitors a new look at the collection on an ongoing basis.

Highlights from the Benkaim collection include: 

CulturaliA European Couple, c. 1610–27. Attributed to 'Ali Riza, the “Bodleian Painter” (Indian, active Deccan, Bijapur, c. 1600–1650). Opaque watercolor and gold on paper; 15.4 x 9.8 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of an anonymous donor; Gift of Mrs. Henry White Cannon by exchange; Bequest of Louise T. Cooper; Leonard C. Hanna Jr. Fund; From the Catherine and Ralph Benkaim Collection  2013.285

Layla and Majnun in the Wilderness with the Animals, c. 1590–1600. Attributed to Sanwalah (Indian, active Mughal court, mid- to late 1500s). Opaque watercolor and gold on paper; 24.7 x 16.8 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of an anonymous donor; Gift of Mrs. Henry White Cannon by exchange; Bequest of Louise T. Cooper; Leonard C. Hanna Jr. Fund; From the Catherine and Ralph Benkaim Collection  2013.301

The Holy Family, early 1600s. India, Mughal. Opaque watercolor with gold on paper; 14.3 x 8.9 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of an anonymous donor; Gift of Mrs. Henry White Cannon by exchange; Bequest of Louise T. Cooper; Leonard C. Hanna Jr. Fund; From the Catherine and Ralph Benkaim Collection  2013.312

Folio from the “Five Treasures” (Panj Ganj) of Jami, 1603–27. Mushfiq (Indian or Persian, active Mughal court and Deccan, early 1600s). Opaque watercolor, ink, and gold on paper; 30.2 x 18.1 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of an anonymous donor; Gift of Mrs. Henry White Cannon by exchange; Bequest of Louise T. Cooper; Leonard C. Hanna Jr. Fund; From the Catherine and Ralph Benkaim Collection  2013.316.b

A Floral Fantasy of Animals and Birds (Waq-waq), early 1600s. India, Mughal. Opaque watercolor and gold on paper; 20 x 12.6 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of an anonymous donor; Gift of Mrs. Henry White Cannon by exchange; Bequest of Louise T. Cooper; Leonard C. Hanna Jr. Fund; From the Catherine and Ralph Benkaim Collection  2013.319

An Illuminated Opening Page from the Emperor’s Album with a Portrait of Emperor Alamgir, 1640–55, portrait after 1658. Bichitr (Indian, active Mughal court mid-1600s). Opaque watercolor and gold on paper; 35.6 x 23.2. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of an anonymous donor; Gift of Mrs. Henry White Cannon by exchange; Bequest of Louise T. Cooper; Leonard C. Hanna Jr. Fund; From the Catherine and Ralph Benkaim Collection  2013.331

The Mughal Empire was established in 1526 and expanded to include most of the Indian subcontinent as well as the regions of present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan by the end of the 17th century. The homeland of the Mughals was in Ferghana, in present-day Uzbekistan, and though they spoke the Turkic language of Chagatai, they admired and emulated Persian art and literature. The unique blending of Persian and Indian themes and styles, along with European elements adopted from paintings and engravings brought by the Jesuits, resulted in a new type of art form known as Mughal painting.
 
“The Benkaims meticulously selected each work with an eye to quality and a scholar’s desire to represent key passages in the history of Mughal painting,” added Quintanilla. “With the acquisition of the Benkaim Collection, the importance of Indian painting at the Cleveland Museum of Art becomes commensurate with the museum’s peerless collection of sculpture...I cannot imagine a better match for Cleveland.”
 
See works from the Benkaim collection for yourself when the Cleveland Museum of Art unveils its west wing galleries on December 31, 2013!  
 
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