Udaipur paintings are known for their bold, expressive style. A Splendid Land: Paintings from Royal Udaipur is an international exhibition being organised by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art in collaboration with the City Palace Museum in Udaipur. It’s a rare collection of 75 works of Mewar paintings from the 1700s to the 1900s on display at the exhibition.

Royal Paintings of the Udaipur over the centuries were not just a symbol of wealth of the court but were also visual record of patronage for arts and a notion of storytelling and narration of cultural, mythological and religious beliefs. Bhava is an important notion in Indian aesthetics; it refers to an emotional state and mood of a character or a scene, and in the context Udaipur paintings – of the scene, landscape and characters of a painting. It creates a rift in the interpretation of artworks. The use of facial expressions, body language, colour and light attribute to the Bhava of the painting, and the idea Bhava allows the spectator to enjoy the essence and mood of the scene depicted and helps them connect and interpret the artwork better.

Seasons are an important concept in Udaipur paintings; they symbolise rasa, and sometimes, feelings and emotions. They convey a cynical nature of time and changing seasons; The land is arid in the summers due to heat waves and the scorching sun. The monsoons can be chaotic and filled with lightning and thunder, and can also be about romance. Autumn, are about pleasant yet sublime mood, when crops are harvested, and the weather is lovely. The lush foliage, birds, and colourful flora and fauna of spring.

All these factors, the affluent patronage, style, characteristics, lavish detailing make for ultimate emotional enticement – and final emotional allure!

These elements can be attributed to the royal paintings of Udaipur through the centuries – be it the miniatures, the Ragmalas, the later day Ramayana series, the 17th and 18th century manuscripts.
In the 18th century, Udaipur’s erstwhile artists began to focus on large-scale paintings of the city’s palaces, streets, and landscapes, lakes, mountains – in turn setting themselves apart from other Indian painters. They attempted to capture the sensory and lived experiences of these locations in a way that would inspire emotions like delight or amazement by depicting moods, seasons.

It is really a big shift that takes place. It did happen in other parts of Rajasthan, but much earlier in Udaipur, shares Dr Debra Diamond is Elizabeth Moynihan Curator for South and Southeast Asian Art at the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art. She is association with scholar on Udaipur paintings and author Dipti Khera and the City Palace Museum, Udaipur – curated the exhibition – ‘A Splendid Land: Paintings from Royal Udaipur’ at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art. It’s a rare collection of 75 works of art from these diverse collections with paintings from the 1700s to the 1900s, on display at the exhibition. Some of these paintings are exhibited for the first time ever.

“In the 17s century – Sisodia (Udaipur) atelier has been producing small handheld paintings for manuscripts – there was poetic texts, Hindu texts, Ragmalas, the Ramayana, based on which these wonderful paintings were made. They have been creating the power of emotion through a ragmala composition, a verse from Rasika Priya or a moment in Ramayana.

Then it was so sudden and amazing that during the reign of Amar Singh 2 in 1700, one saw a shift in the focus. The artists started making these huge paintings; it was still about the power of emotion, the ambience, but beyond that they were also about specific group of people doing something together on a particular day and place in Udaipur. They become very grand and deeply local. And, the emotions are in praise of Udaipur (Splendid Land comes from this experience of feeling wonderful and in amazement that one gets after viewing the paintings). It is also about interpersonal bonds of friendship between men and also how the mood developed over the time, during the course of the day, over the hours when people move from one place to another, and exactly how they move – where they were…The artists were so creative that they keep floating from architecture to landscape to show how the story progresses so that the story and feelings can emerge.”

“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” – the curatorial note mentions the amazing artists of the time.

A painting from the exhibition at Smithsonian, depicting Rama, Lakshmana, and Sita in the Chitrakuta forest, folio from a Ramayana, attributed to the Master of the Jagged Water’s Edge, ca. 1680–90 is an illustration of Lord Rama, Lakshmana, and Sita in the Chitrakuta forest, is an excellent image of the aforementioned. Idealized people and lush, varied flora and fauna combine to make a pleasing setting. Extremely rich and surreal colours and lines cause the viewer to feel a rush of emotions.

And, then there is the painting of Maharana Sangram Singh II from the Gangaur Boat Procession where the artist has created the bird’s eye view of the scene – the riverscape, the temples, fort, the houses, people and festivities making for some great story telling.

“The works are vastly relatable to present times, and that makes this exhibition more important,” adds Dr Debra Diamond.

The exhibition of Udaipur paintings at Smithsonian will continue till May 14 before moving to Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio where the paintings will be on display from June 10 to September 10 this year.