In San Diego, many Indian paintings

In San Diego, many Indian paintings

The San Diego Museum of Art, an ornate building resembling a Spanish palace, nestled in Balboa Park, California, boasts of a collection of over 1,400 Indian artworks created for the Mughal, Deccani, Rajasthani and Pahari courts between 12th and 19th centuries.

Opened in 1926, it's the oldest, largest and most-visited art museum in the region, serving about 2,50,000 visitors each year.

As San Diego is located adjacent to Mexico, the museum's exhibition text is in both English and Spanish. The museum is most famous for its selection of artworks by European masters like El Greco and Henri Matisse. But, its Edwin Binney 3rd Collection is one of the most comprehensive and high-quality collections of South Asian art outside of India.

Of those related to India, the works were created for Indian rulers as well as merchants from Persia, Central Asia and Europe who travelled to India, set down roots and commissioned art to local Indian artists.

The artists were expected to adapt to the whims and aesthetics of their foreign patrons, while maintaining a quintessential Indian quality.  The artworks are organised chronologically as well as by form, like paintings or sculptures, and by theme.  

The museum has South Asian, Southeast Asian and Persian art galleries, where selections from the Binney collection are always on display.

The collection was put together personally by Edwin Binney 3rd (1925-86), an heir to the Crayola fortune. Crayola is known worldwide for its art products.

Rather than acquiring examples of just one era or type of art, Binney sought to collect an encyclopaedic range of art from different epochs and schools of painting.

Binney also collected objects d'art like Persian miniatures, ballet prints, art from the Ottoman Empire and theatre books. He began by focusing on Persian and Turkish art, but as interest in this type of art was widespread at the time, Binney focused on collecting less faddish and, therefore, less expensive South Asian art.

The Binney Collection ranges from narrative illustrations of Indian epics to portraits of important personages like emperors, as well as folk art from various regions of South Asia. Not all of the art was intended to be hung on walls.

In addition to the massive assemblage of paintings, sculptures play an important part in the collection.

However, paintings originally housed together in a single manuscript were removed and sold individually; the text in these large manuscripts was probably destroyed. So, the museum is now trying to preserve the art for future generations to appreciate.

Marika Sardar, the museum's associate curator of Southern Asian and Islamic Arts since 2013, has written extensively about the art of India, including the section on South Asian art, for the textbook Asian Art.

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