Indian miniature painting is rich in stories: from epic legends of heroic gods, Mughal emperors and Rajput rulers, to love stories both sad and joyous. These small, intimate paintings are often ornamented with delicate, decorative borders. Traditionally, they were mounted onto coloured paper and compiled into albums to relate the life of a Mughal emperor or a great Hindu legend.
The paintings in A Stream of Stories Indian Miniatures from the National Gallery of Australia date from the 17th century to the early 20th century. They include works from the Mughal courts and provincial areas, Hindu paintings ripe with symbolism from Rajasthan and the Punjab, bold Kalighat paintings produced for pilgrims to Calcutta in the late 19th century and modern paintings from the nationalistic Bengal School. Each painting provides an insight into the richness and diversity of Indian art, culture and religion.
All of the works in the exhibition are from the Gayer-Anderson Gift, a collection of more than 200 Indian and other Asian works donated by the Irish identical twin brothers Colonel T.G. and Major R.G. Gayer-Anderson to the Commonwealth of Australia in 1954.
exhibition pamphlet Introduction
Indian miniatures are small, intimate paintings, often ornamented with delicate, decorative borders. Traditionally they were mounted on coloured paper and compiled into albums which related the life and achievements of a Mughal emperor, or the great Hindu epic legends of the Ramayana and Mahabharata, or the ragamala 'garland of melody' a musical expression of changing moods and passions. On the reverse of these album folios artists inscribed exquisitely detailed calligraphy or painted delicate floral ornament, fine examples of which are displayed in A Stream of Stories.
The Mughal emperor Akbar (r. 1556—1605) stimulated the Islamic art of miniature painting in India, appointing Persian artists long experienced in the tradition of miniature painting to his famous court studios in Agra and Fatephur Sikri. The Hindu Rajput princes of the Muslim-conquered provinces borrowed from Mughal style and technique, developing their own Rajasthani schools of the central plains and Pahari schools of the Himalayan foothills. With the opening of India to European trade in the late fifteenth century, Western influences filtered through to the Mughal Empire resulting in an extraordinary variety of styles, each enhanced by the exquisite craftsmanship of the artist. By the 1850s British colonial rule had heralded the demise of Indian miniature painting. With the introduction of art schools, Western academic drawing and the technique of painting on canvas were taught and modern European styles and subjects were adopted in favour of the romantic realism of miniature painting. However, by the early twentieth century traditional skills and techniques had been re-awakened, especially Bengal, where a nationalistic style had begun to emerge.
Between 1926 and 1953, the Irish identical twins Colonel T.G. and Major R.G. Gayer-Anderson collected Indian and other Asian paintings and drawings dating from the seventeenth century to the early twentieth century. In 1954 they generously donated more than 200 of these works to the Commonwealth of Australia. A Stream of Stories: Indian Miniatures from the National Gallery of Australia travelling exhibition provides an opportunity to show some of the best works from the Gayer-Anderson Gift. Included are paintings from the workshops of the Mughal courts and provincial areas influenced by the naturalistic Mughal style; Hindu paintings ripe with symbolism from Rajasthan and the Punjab; bold Kalighat paintings mass-produced for pilgrims to Calcutta in the late nineteenth century and two modern paintings from the nationalistic Bengal School of the early twentieth century. Drawings and unfinished paintings illustrate studio techniques and the palette of the Indian artist.
The Gayer-Andersons wanted their collection to be seen and enjoyed by Australians with whom they had developed a close bond. This exhibition helps fulfil their wishes.
The Gayer—Anderson Gift
The Gayer-Anderson collection was formed by Major Robert Grenville Gayer-Anderson Pasha (1881—1945) and Colonel Thomas Gayer Gayer-Anderson CMG DSO (1881—1960). The Irish-born brothers were educated in England, then pursued army careers along separate, although occasionally converging paths. Robert, a London medical graduate, joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and was seconded to the Egyptian Army from 1907 to 1917. After retirement in 1920 he served the Egyptian government in several senior positions until 1924. The title 'Pasha' was conferred in honour of this service. Thomas graduated from the Royal Military Academy, London, and served in South Africa, the Sudan, Egypt and India. Both brothers served at Gallipoli.
Identical twins, the brothers were intensely conscious of their relationship. They thought of themselves as a unit and were therefore able to acquire works independently, yet build and hold their collection in common accord. Robert introduced Thomas to Indian miniatures and was the inspiration behind the collection, although he never visited India. Thomas was an enthusiastic collector, purchasing the majority of the works during his time in India. They also bought works in Cairo, London and Dundee.
The Gayer-Andersons were of one mind in their decision to make a gift to Australia of a substantial part of their collection. Parts of the collection also went to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Though separated by great distances through much of their careers, both had made close friendships with Australians during their army service. This high regard for Australians was reinforced at Gallipoli.
When Thomas Gayer-Anderson formally handed over the Gayer-Anderson Gift to the Commonwealth of Australia in London in 1954, he wrote:
It is a source of the liveliest satisfaction to me to know that the pictures and objects in this Gayer-Anderson Gift, each one of which has been acquired, tended and loved by myself and my twin Brother, are now going to a new home where they will be permanently cared for, studied and admired in a land for whose People we have always had so sincere an admiration and affection.
Touring Dates & Venues
A Stream of Stories is the first exhibition of Indian art specifically developed for touring. Its launch marks the 10th birthday of the National Gallery's Travelling Exhibitions Program of exhibitions across Australia.
- New Land Gallery, SA
15 February 1998 - 29 March 1998
- Geraldton Art Gallery, WA
10 April 1998 - 24 May 1998
- Millicent Library and Gallery, SA,
30 May 1998 - 28 June 1998
- Hamilton Art Gallery, VIC
8 July 1998 - 16 August 1998
- Mackay City Library, QLD
28 August 1998 - 27 September 1998
- Brisbane Customs House Art Gallery, QLD
24 Oct 1998 - 29 November 1998