The National Museum of Asian Art is presenting “A Splendid Land: Paintings from Royal Udaipur,” a major survey of works from the lake city of Udaipur in Rajasthan, India, Nov. 19–May 14, 2023. Presented in collaboration with The City Palace Museum in Udaipur administered by The Maharana of Mewar Charitable Foundation, the exhibition brings together 63 works on paper, cotton and scrolls from collections across the world to reveal how artists sought to convey the sensory and lived experience of the lake city. Many of the paintings have never been publicly exhibited or published. Curated by Debra Diamond (Elizabeth Moynihan Curator for South Asian and Southeast Asian Art at the National Museum of Asian Art) and Dipti Khera (associate professor at New York University), “A Splendid Land” will be on view in the museum’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. It is the first in a series of exhibitions that celebrate the National Museum of Asian Art’s centennial in 2023.
In the 18th century, the artists of Udaipur shifted their focus from small poetic manuscripts to large-scale paintings of the city’s palaces, lakes, mountains and seasons. They sought to convey the bhava, the emotional tenor and sensorial experiences, that make places and times memorable. This was unlike anything else in Indian art. The paintings express themes of belonging and prosperous futures that are universal. “A Splendid Land” explores the environmental, political and emotional contexts in which the new genre emerged. Udaipur’s economy depended on annual monsoons, extensive water harvesting and securing the loyalty of nobles and allies. By celebrating regional abundance and courtly refinement, the paintings strengthened friendships in the changing political landscapes of early modern South Asia.
“The National Museum of Asian Art has a rich history of connecting visitors with South Asian arts and cultures,” said Chase F. Robinson, Dame Jillian Sackler Director of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Freer Gallery of Art. “Built upon a long-standing collaboration with Indian colleagues, the exhibition will allow the museum to bring extraordinary but little-known pieces to a global audience, enriching its understanding of a fascinating moment in India’s past.”
The National Museum of Asian Art has more than 1,200 objects in its South Asian collections. Sculpture, paintings and manuscripts illuminate the subcontinent’s many religious and courtly traditions; photography is at the center of the contemporary Indian holdings. “A Splendid Land” includes 13 paintings from the National Museum of Asian Art; paintings from Udaipur are a strength of the collection.
The artworks featured in the exhibition reveal how painters developed a new genre centered upon the lived experience of local landscapes, lake systems and palaces. The atelier became an incubator; over some 200 years, artists found ever-new ways to evoke ambience, trigger memories and create feelings of connection. This departure in subject matter differs from the body-focused visual traditions of Indian art over two millennia. “A Splendid Land” is the first exhibition to closely examine this shift and how it expands people’s understanding of emotions and sensorial experience, as well as climate and natural resource management, in early modern India.
“A Splendid Land” is organized as a journey that begins at Udaipur’s center and continues outward: first the lakes and lake palaces, then to the city, the countryside and finally to the cosmos. An ambient soundscape by the renowned experimental filmmaker Amit Dutta (b. 1977, Jammu, India) underscores the sensorial elements in the paintings, inviting contemporary audiences to sense—and not just see—the moods of these extraordinary places and paintings. The installation will include 51 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) from the 17th through 19th centuries and six photographs from the 19th and 20th centuries.
“The exhibition structure directly responds to the visuality of the paintings and the historical goals of the artists,” said Diamond, who is a specialist in Indian court painting. “Each gallery centers upon the emotions engendered by a particular place or season. The sequence of immersive moods will heighten the sensorial experience of place for museum visitors. I am grateful to the City Palace Museum for their partnership on this exciting project that allows our visitors to get a sense of Udaipur and its cultural heritage, and to co-curator Dipti Khera, whose groundbreaking work on historical emotions is central to the exhibition.”
Diamond has curated numerous exhibitions with the National Museum of Asian Art, including “Garden & Cosmos” (2008–9), “Yoga: The Art of Transformation” (2013–4) and “Body Image: Arts from the Indian Subcontinent,” currently on view in the museum’s Freer Gallery of Art. Khera, associate professor in New York University’s Department of Art History and Institute of Fine Arts, has published extensively, foregrounding art that challenges colonial perspectives and global histories of the 18th and 19th centuries.
“A Splendid Land” will be accompanied by a robust program of public events, most notably a public symposium on the monsoon, past and present, and the ways that art reveals cultural attitudes towards natural resources and speaks to climate crises in South Asia that will bring perspectives of the past together with insights of the future. Additionally, the traditional Rajasthani music band Raitila Rajasthan will present “Music of Splendid Land,” featuring songs inspired from themes of Udaipur paintings showcased at the exhibition.
“A Splendid Land: Paintings from Royal Udaipur” is organized by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art in collaboration with The City Palace Museum, Udaipur administered by The Maharana of Mewar Charitable Foundation.
The National Museum of Asian Art acknowledges support from members of the “A Splendid Land: Paintings from Royal Udaipur” Leadership Council.
Farhad and Mary Ebrahimi
Dr. Vijay and Ms. Nanda Anand
Nancy Swift Furlotti (Pettit Foundation)
Nancy Chang Lee
Dr. Susan L. Beningson and Steve Arons
The Honorable and Mrs. William A. Nitze
Iris and Lawrence Miller
Dr. Bruce Chalker and Dr. Polly A. Penhale
Ms. Elizabeth Gomersall
Ashok and Stuti Kaveeshwar
Jane Washburn Robinson
Additional support is provided by the Elizabeth Moynihan Curator of South and Southeast Asian Art Endowment, The Ashok and Marion Deshmukh Endowment for South Asia, Smithsonian’s Scholarly Studies and the Smithsonian Women’s Committee.
About the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art is committed to preserving, exhibiting, researching and interpreting art in ways that deepen our collective understanding of Asia and the world. Home to more than 45,000 objects, the museum stewards one of North America’s largest and most comprehensive collections of Asian art, with works dating from antiquity to the present from China, Japan, Korea, South Asia, Southeast Asia and the Islamic world. Its rich holdings bring the arts of Asia into direct dialogue with an important collection of 19th and early 20th century American works, providing an essential platform for creative collaboration and cultural exchange between the United States, Asia and the Middle East.
Beginning with a 1906 gift that paved the way for the museum’s opening in 1923, the National Museum of Asian Art is a leading resource for visitors, students and scholars in the United States and internationally. Its galleries, laboratories, archives and library are located on the National Mall in Washington, DC, and are part of the world’s largest museum complex, which welcomes more than 30 million visitors each year. The museum is free and open to the public 364 days a year, making its exhibitions, programs, learning opportunities and digital initiatives accessible to global audiences.