A Visit to a Splendid Land at the Museum of Asian Art

Sometimes referred to as “the Venice of the East,” Udaipur, the “City of Lakes” in Rajasthan India, has long been a tourist attraction.  British administrator James Tod dubbed the setting, “the most romantic spot on the continent of India.” 

Udaipur’s Lake Palace at dusk. Wikipedia.

During  the 17th to 19th century, a new wave of art emerged in this fascinating setting, differing from the small poetic manuscripts of the previous two-millennia tradition.  

In  ”A Splendid Land: Painting from Royal Udaipur,”  The National Museum of Asian Art exhibits these new works (through May 14, 2023), presenting a travelogue of sorts to the visual and sensual splendors of that long ago time and place.

The National Museum of Asian Art is located on the National Mall on the site of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. Wikipedia.

The  journey begins at Udaipur’s center, moving  through the city into the countryside, from palaces to lakes and mountains,  and finally to the cosmos.  

The new large-scale paintings feature  the city’s architecture and natural beauty.  “Sunrise in Udaipur ” (ca. 1722–23), an opaque watercolor and gold on paper,  is one of  the exhibit’s most impressive  displays.  Fifty-one works on paper (roughly 3-feet by 4-feet), five monumental works on cotton (ranging in height from 5-feet to 10-feet), one scroll (9-feet in length) — all from the 17th through 19th centuries — are displayed with  six photographs from the 19th and 20th centuries. 

Replete with rich sensorial experiences, the works convey  feelings of  belonging and cultural abundance.  There are  images of courtly activity, like an opaque watercolor and gold-on-paper work , ”Maharana Ari Singh II at worship in the City Palace, “(Shambhu, 1765).  Simple  scenes like  ”Prince Amar Singh II Walking in the Rain,”  or group gatherings like “Maharana Swarup Singh and Courtiers Playing Holi at the City Palace ”(Attributed to Tara, ca. 1851) also draw viewers into this evocative world.

Enhancing the mood  to not just see, but to feel the art, is the ambient soundscape  of water falling, crickets chirping and horse hooves clopping, created by the experimental filmmaker Amit Dutta (1977. Jammu, India).  

Maharana Fateh Singh crossing a river during the monsoon Shivalal, ca. 1893.

Complementing this exhibit, is  ”Unstill Waters: Contemporary Photography from India ” (through June 11, 2023).  Featuring 29 works of photography and video examining  the landscape of India, from the streets of Mumbai and New Delhi to landscape settings beyond. Visually dynamic, ”Unstill Waters ” offers vivid perspectives on the enduring cultural connection to the Yamuna River in northern India, its current endangered state due to rapidly changing urban life and its relationship to global concerns. 

Unstill Waters: Contemporary Photography from India ” features “Untitled” by Sheba Chhachhi. (b. 1958, Ethiopia). 2007. Archival print. Gift of Drs. Umesh and Sunanda Gaur, Sheba Chhachhi.

“A Splendid Land: Painting from Royal Udaipur” is on exhibit at the Museum of Asian Art on the National Mall through May 14, 2023.




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