“An Enchanted Land” celebrates the centennial of the MFA’s collection of Indian art with a display of some of the most extraordinary examples of Indian painting anywhere in the world. Made in the Rajput kingdoms of North India between the 17th and 19th century, they represent a type of art that was totally unknown in the West when they entered the Museum’s collection a century ago. Even in India, Rajput painting was then little recognized.
This exhibition celebrates 100 years of Indian paintings at the MFA, highlighting the contributions of the figure who brought them to Boston, and to the attention of the world: Ananda K. Coomaraswamy (1877–1947). Curator at the Museum from 1917 until his death in 1947, Coomaraswamy collected these paintings during his travels in India and sold them to MFA benefactor Denman Waldo Ross. A pioneering philosopher and historian of Indian art, Coomaraswamy was also a staunch nationalist, working to end British colonialism in India and elsewhere. He put Rajput painting forward as a proto-national art form of the highest quality, a visual manifestation of what he called “the great ideals of Indian culture.” For him the struggle for independence was nothing less than a fight to keep these ideals alive.
The end of colonialism in India has reframed the ways we approach the study of Indian art, but many of Coomaraswamy’s observations and arguments about Rajput painting remain incisive. The works on view in this exhibition—organized around his own words, reflecting some of his keenest insights—also retain their power and their ability to delight.