Dorrance Special Exhibition Galleries, First Floor
One of the world’s finest private collections of Indian “miniature“ paintings will be presented for the first time in its entirety in Intimate Worlds: Masterpieces of Indian Painting from the Alvin O. Bellak Collection. Some 90 paintings and drawings created in workshops across India over the course of five centuries will be on view, together with a selection of Dr. Bellak’s superb Indian metal vessels.
The exhibition spans the period from before the rise of Islamic Mughal rule in northern India during the 1500s to the heyday of the British Raj in the late nineteenth century. The paintings feature images that vividly illustrate the Hindu, Muslim, and Jain religious stories, offer visions of life at court, evoke the pleasures of love, and delight in indescribable violence. The viewer can explore the lively styles created for the Hindu Rajput courts, the acute observations of the Mughals who built the Taj Mahal, and the dreamscapes of the south-central Deccan sultans. Featured are the robust compositions of Rajasthan and the delicate idealism of the Panjab Hills in the Himalayas north of Delhi. Not only do these works highlight the indigenous art that flourished in India but also the remarkable stylistic developments that emerged when artists of one culture became exposed to others. Dr. Bellak, who created the collection over the past three decades, has promised it as a bequest to the museum–a gift that will enable the Museum to become one of the foremost repositories of Indian miniature painting in the United States.
A Trustee of the museum since 1995, Dr. Bellak is a longtime Philadelphia resident who received his Ph.D. in clinical psychology at Penn State University. He worked in corporate consulting with Hay Group, where he was general partner heading the firm’s worldwide management compensation business. When Dr. Bellak began collecting in the mid-1970s, he set out to illustrate the history of Indian painting, drawn to works luscious in detail, magnificent in color, unusual and often playful in subject.
The exhibition’s title is taken from an invitation to “Enter Madhava’s intimate world,“ that is part of a twelfth-century devotional love poem written on a painting in the collection. It suggests the small scale of pictures that evoke the inner world of Indian courtly and religious life. The exhibition is organized chronologically rather than by region, highlighting rich visual relationships and moments of stylistic foment within various artistic communities and workshops and rich dialogues of expression spurred by artists of different cultures working side by side.
Published by the museum, Intimate Worlds: Indian Painting from the Alvin O. Bellak Collection contains a discussion of India’s courtly painting by Darielle Mason, reflections on collecting by Alvin O. Bellak, and entries on each of the works in the exhibition. The book features essays by such leading scholars as B. N. Goswamy, who treats the relationship of artists and their patrons; John Seyller, exploring hierarchies of taste; and Terence McInerney on the history of collecting Indian art.
The exhibition and publication are supported by a generous grant from The Pew Charitable Trust.
Darielle Mason, The Stella Kramrisch Curator of Indian and Himalayan Art