Haidar ‘Ali and Ibrahim Khan, “Sultan Muhammad ‘Adil Shah and Ikhlas Khan riding an elephant” (c. 1645), gouache with gold on paper (all images courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced last week that it had acquired almost two-thirds of abstract British painter Howard Hodgkin’s personal collection — the same collection that was reportedly rejected last year by the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford over provenance concerns. 

The Met’s acquisition comprises 84 Indian paintings and drawings and will be accompanied by a long-term loan of the remainder of Hodgkin’s collection. Together, 122 works spanning the 16th through 19th centuries — including those representing the Mughal, Deccani, Pahari, and Rajasthani styles of painting — will make their way to the Met, where they will be exhibited in 2024. 

The Ashmolean turned down the Howard Hodgkin Indian Collection Trust’s offer to acquire the collection on the basis that it could not establish “clear and secure provenance” for over half of the works, according to reporting by the Guardian last year. Because Hodgkin was adamant about keeping all items in his collection together, the Ashmolean decided against acquiring the collection wholesale. By acquiring only a portion of the works and accepting the rest on long-term loan, the Met’s arrangement allows the collection to remain intact, as Hodgkin wished.

“Prince Aurangzeb,” Mughal style in the Deccan (c. 1653–55), gouache with gold on paper

In response to Hyperallergic’s request for comment, a spokesperson for the museum said: “The Met is thrilled at both of these developments — to have purchased a number of works from the broader collection, and to be able to present the entire collection to the public in 2024.”

Consul General of India in New York Randhir Jaiswal said in a statement that he was giving the collection a “warm welcome” at the Met, calling it “an institution with deep and engaging ties with India.”

“This special bond has been nurtured through its rich and varied collection of Indian art and heritage, and the conversations that have happened over decades. With the Howard Hodgkin Collection coming to the Met, a new chapter is being written in this ever-flowing cultural engagement,” Jaiswal said.

“Sultan ‘Ali’ Adil Shah shooting an arrow at a tiger” (c. 1660), gouache and gold on paper

Hodgkin was known to collect on “purely visual grounds” rather than within the delimits of geography or historical period. “It was art (whatever that is), rather more than anything else, which appealed to me in Indian painting,” Hodgkin once wrote in an essay about his collection. His collection includes paintings done in most of the court styles that thrived during the Mughal period, including naturalistic works painted at the Mughal court, sensitive and opulent Deccani miniatures from central India, and more traditional, aristocratic, and romantic Rajasthani paintings. Although Hodgkin’s collection is broad-ranging, it reveals a fondness for big paintings and elephants.

Although Hodgkin did not visit India until he was 32, he returned almost every year for the rest of his life for over 50 years. His interest in collecting Indian art began far before he set foot on the subcontinent. Many of his own paintings portrayed Indian landscapes and were inspired by color combinations that were employed in Indian miniatures, the subject of an exhibition of his work in England in 2017.

“Marriage procession in a bazaar” (c. 1640-50), gouache with gold on paper

In an email to Hyperallergic, an Ashmolean spokesperson confirmed that the works had been on long-term loan at the museum and offered for acquisition, but did not offer further comment. The paintings and drawings were said to have been offered to the Oxford institution by Hodgkin at a “bargain deal,” but at the time, curators were able to vet the provenance of only 40% of the collection, as Alexander Sturgis, director of the Ashmolean, told the Guardian in 2021. Hodgkin had reportedly acquired his collection from international dealers in London, New York, and Hong Kong who offered little by way of provenance. The Met has been in discussions with Hodgkin’s estate since early 2021 to secure his collection.

Along with Hodgkin’s collection of Indian paintings, the Met will acquire Hodgkin’s own painting “Small Indian Sky” (1990), which will go on view along with the items from his collection.

The Latest

Avatar photo

Jasmine Liu

Jasmine Liu is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she studied anthropology and mathematics at Stanford University.