At the Met, Master Painters of India
Hundreds of years after their deaths, these anonymous artists are for the first time getting their due and people are finally learning about their names and the lives they lived…
Modern day iconic artists like the late MF Husain, FN Souza or Tyeb Mehta are the rock stars of the Indian art world and you see their celebrity status reflected at art biennales and gallery openings, and in the high prices their work commands in the auction houses. They are the superstars, the rajas of any social event, the focal point of international culture. Everyone knows their name.
Yet there is another set of artists who never achieved fame in their lifetime, and whose names no one knows. We are talking of the superb master painters who lived and worked from 1100 to 1900, who rarely signed a canvas with their own names, and who lived and died in anonymity.
They created some of the most magnificent works for emperors, maharajas and the nobility, and yet today no one knows their names or faces. They were themselves always in the shadows, on the periphery of history, relegated to the footnotes. Even there they could not leave their mark by way of a flourish of their signature. They almost always, in deference to their royal masters, signed themselves humbly as ‘Your servant’, ‘Your slave’ and ‘Least of the unworthy’.
A major exhibition organized by the Museum Rietberg Zurich in collaboration with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York sets things right, and gives these artists the recognition they so richly deserve. This major loan exhibition, which concluded in January, was devoted to the connoisseurship of Indian painting, with some 220 works selected according to identified artists.