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Folio: The Disrobing of Draupadi

The Indian miniature style of painting often depicted vivid architectural scenes

Folio disrobing drupaudi jpg

Folio disrobing drupaudi jpg

Consider British artist Howard Hodgkin’s sensuous abstractions and you would be forgiven for not immediately thinking of naturalism; the artist’s broad strokes and collages forgo detailed representation in favour of emotional charge. Yet it is this refined and detailed naturalistic style that characterises many examples in Hodgkin’s collection of Indian paintings – one that is now perhaps the greatest of its kind anywhere in the world. 

Shown here is The Disrobing of Draupadi (c1765), a scene from the epic Mahabharata in which the prince Dussasana attempts to forcibly disrobe Draupadi while her five husbands helplessly watch. Krishna’s divine grace, however, has bestowed her with an unending sari that continuously unravels. Draupadi’s honour is nonetheless tarnished, and the event marks her transformation from contented wife into a vengeful goddess.

Since his schooldays in the late 1940s the collection has grown, the works chosen, as Hodgkin states, ‘because I thought they were beautiful … because they touched my emotions’. Through this collection it is now possible to track – through an artist’s eye – styles in Indian painting during the Mughal period of c1560-1858. Blending Persian miniature with various local styles, the development of Mughal painting saw it depict Imperial elephants in subtle greys and browns, vivid architectural court scenes in bright reds and gold and expressive portraits of Hindu gods and myths. Often highly detailed, flat compositions (what might now be associated with Naïve art), many examples show a depiction of architecture that experimented with perspective and depth – a modern demonstration being the colourful depiction of Balkrishna Doshi’s Sangath studio on page 50.