Indian, Islamic art collected by UK artist Howard Hodgkin to go under the hammer

A fragment of a carpet and a painting from Howard Hodgkin’s collection. (Photos supplied)
Updated 12 September 2017

Indian, Islamic art collected by UK artist Howard Hodgkin to go under the hammer

LONDON: This October, Sotheby’s will exhibit some 400 items from a collection including Indian and Islamic art that belonged to renowned British artist Howard Hodgkin, to be sold at auction in London on October 24.
Hodgkin, who died in March at the age of 84, is widely regarded as one of Britain’s greatest artists. He has been a central figure in contemporary art for more than 50 years.
Frances Christie, senior director and head of the department of Modern and Post-War British Art, described the artist as highly influential.
“Howard Hodgkin redefined the way in which we look at the world. Just as his eye for the exceptional resonates through his paintings, his ability to identify the extraordinary in unexpected places was deployed in his incessant hunt for art and objects of exquisite beauty. So confident was he in his selection, and of the importance of each piece to his needs, that he created his own collecting alchemy. Spanning art history through time and geography, they offer a vivid revelation of his private world in all its intense and exhilarating glory,” she said.
Hodgkin spoke about his passion for collecting in a talk given in 1991 at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington’s Smithsonian Institution, where Indian paintings and drawings from his collection were being shown.
From the transcript of that talk, we get an insight into his thinking.
“Everything that I’ve ever done as a collector has been based, ultimately, on the strength of feeling,” he said.
The urge to collect, he observed, can stem from many motivations.
“A great collection often seems to be the result of one very rich man going shopping. It isn’t. It is really partly illness, an incurable obsession. It’s partly — sadly, in some cases — a desire for future or posthumous glory, perhaps more often for status while the collector is still alive. Also, and of course far more importantly, it represents the human desire to get near works of art. At its worst, it’s greed or the desire simply to possess, like a child at a party being given something to take home. But it’s much more than that at its highest.”
Hodgkin remarked that he found painting solitary but that collecting brought him into contact with like-minded people. Furthermore, the discriminating eye that he developed was nurtured by close friendships with experts in the field. It was Hodgkin’s art master at Eton, Wilfrid Blunt — brother of the leading British art historian and Soviet spy, Anthony Blunt — who first introduced him to non-Western art and who inspired him to collect his first examples of Indian paintings.
Later, Hodgkin became friends with the collector Robert Erskine and through him the network of various Parisian dealers, including Charles “Uncle Charlie” Ratton. Robert Skelton, who was the assistant keeper at London’s Victoria and Albert museum, became a lifelong friend with whom the artist first visited India in 1964. It was with Skelton that Hodgkin was able to meet other connoisseurs and collectors, including Jagdish Mittal, Kumar Sangram Singh, Milo C. Beach and Stuart Cary Welch, whose own collection of Islamic and Indian art was sold at Sotheby’s in 2011.
Hodgkin wrote about his fascination with Indian art in an Asian Art article entitled “About my Collection” in 1991.
“Disconcertingly, a collection begins to have a life of its own and to make demands on its owner that seem both impersonal and peremptory. For the most part, it’s really quite easy to resist the innocent charms of gap filling. But when a picture somehow demands to be bought (at whatever price) because it appears to be a great work of art of a kind not otherwise represented in the collection, it means trouble. I long wanted marvellous Basohli pictures and eventually got some good ones. Early Mughal pictures were seemingly impossible to come by, and then, by chance, I managed to acquire the fragmentary painting on cloth (titled) ‘A Prince Riding on an Elephant in Procession,’ but my favorite and longest-lasting enthusiasm has been for Kota painting.
“Elephants are heavy animals but are depicted in paintings from Kota as capable of such wild movement that they appear almost weightless — and how mysteriously they seem to haunt the rather conventional landscape.
“As a collector, my enthusiasm for these Kota pictures became my downfall — my Waterloo. The acquisition of ‘Maharao Durjan Sal and Shri Brijnathji Hunting Tigers and Wild Buffalo’ was such a traumatic event in my life as a collector that I felt I could go no further. It’s the largest, most expensive picture I have ever bought and the only one for which I have exchanged one of my paintings. This great, though fragmentary, picture finally enabled me to escape from the almost nagging lust that often keeps collectors in a slightly restless and unfulfilled condition for the rest of their lives.”
The Sotheby’s experts who catalogued Hodgkin’s collection described a treasure trove within every room of his Georgian house in Bloomsbury, near the British Museum in London.
“Surprises lay around every corner of the house. A precious 17th century Indian sandstone relief formed a backdrop in the kitchen to the artfully-stacked china on display. A wonderful fragment from a carpet, with its interlocking geometric pattern, faced a series of wall-mounted Kashan star tiles and the foliate motifs were echoed in monochrome form in the craftsmanship of an exquisite inlaid Mughal box.”
They observed that ornamentation is a prominent thread that runs through the great variety of objects he was drawn to, from both India and Islamic cultures. He especially sought fragments — particular motifs, calligraphy, colors and textures appearing in Ottoman, Indian and Islamic tiles, textiles and rugs. Fragments of calligraphy were not sought after for their meaning, but purely for the visual language of their linear forms and he honed in on specific parts of larger pattern schemes. In doing so, he focused on small yet powerful details, freeing his imagination from the original form.
Hodgkin collected in such depth that, despite covering almost every surface of his home, many of his acquisitions were not displayed. The basement library held a rich treasure trove of prints, paintings, fabric, books and furniture and exquisite fragments. Items consigned there were not relics, but an astounding array of source material of the most varied and wonderful kind. Many items were acquired on his travels, but were never as mementos. “I particularly don’t like objects of sentiment — people who have things not because they like and admire them, but because they have associations,” the artist is known to have said.
Hodgkin, who was awarded the much-coveted Turner Prize in 1985, has been the subject of numerous international exhibitions and art fans in the Middle East will soon have the chance to view highlights from his collection at the Sotheby’s gallery in Dubai between October 8-12. The full exhibition will be on show in London from October 20-24.


Maleficent, Angelina Jolie’s misunderstood sorceress, returns

‘People aren’t born hard and aggressive,’ says Jolie. ‘Something happens and you don’t feel safe.’ (Supplied)
Updated 21 October 2019

Maleficent, Angelina Jolie’s misunderstood sorceress, returns

LOS ANGELES: No one is born the villain. Not Lucifer in Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, not Arthur Fleck in Todd Philips’ recent release “Joker,” and certainly not Maleficent, whom Angelina Jolie brought to life in 2014. Unlike “Joker,” however, “Maleficent,” a reimagining of Disney’s classic “Sleeping Beauty” (1959), was an open-hearted film, showing not only how the world can harden the pure of heart, but also how love can soften it once more.

“We think of her as evil and dark, and we asked why, and went deeper,” says Jolie of the character. “Most women — most people — aren’t born with a certain hardness and aggression; something happens in your life where you lose trust, you don’t feel safe, and you start to fight and you protect yourself in a different way.”

“Maleficent” shows not only how the world can harden the pure of heart, but also how love can soften it once more. (Supplied)

In “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” the sequel set six years later, Maleficent hardly lives up to that title, but rumor would have it otherwise. The story of the ‘sleeping beauty’ Aurora (Elle Fanning) has spread across the land, painting Maleficent as the villain, rather than the one whose love saved her. Now, as Aurora plans to marry Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson), Maleficent must meet the neighboring Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), who wishes to destroy Maleficent and her magical world.

“When you see a leader like (Ingrith), who is so angry, so hostile, and who believes that the only way to survive is to destroy the other… we make it very clear in this film that she’s afraid, she’s weak and she’s ignorant. That’s why she’s behaving that way and that’s why she’s wrong,” Jolie says. “It’s not political, it’s not trying to be, but if you’re happy about the way the film ends, and it feels right, I think that heads you in the right direction, and for children it gives a nice guide.”

In the film, Maleficent must meet the neighboring Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), who wishes to destroy Maleficent and her magical world. (Supplied)

While the film features a lot of violent spectacle, the inner conflict of the lead characters themselves is whether they are strong enough to resist becoming violent, rather than the inverse.

“That’s something that isn’t portrayed a lot on screen — a lot of princesses grew up and they said, ‘Well, we’re going to make her a strong princess, and we’re going to make her tough, so we’re going to make her fight!’ Is that what being a strong woman means? We’re going to have to have a sword and armor on and fight? Aurora can do that in a different way, in a pink dress. It’s beautiful that she keeps her softness and vulnerabilities as her strengths,” says Fanning.

Redefining the ‘strong woman’ character is not just about redefining strength, for Jolie. It’s about lifting women up without pushing men down.

Harris Dickinson plays Prince Phillip in Disney's live-action “Maleficent.” (Supplied)

“We show diverse types of women, but we have extraordinary men in the film,” she says. “I really want to press that point, because I think so often when a story is told of a ‘strong woman’ she has to beat the man, or she has to be like the man, or she has to somehow not need the man. We both very much need and love and learn from the men. I think that’s also an important message for young girls — to find their own power, but to learn from and respect the men around them.”

For Maleficent, those men include Conall and Borra (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor and Ed Skrein respectively), both of whom are of the same race as her, cast out from the rest of the world. The two play out the conflict at the center of the film — whether the only path to peace is conflict, or whether diplomacy and goodwill can help.

Elle Fanning plays Aurora in “Maleficent.” (Supplied)

Ejiofor, who was nominated for an Academy Award for 2013’s “12 Years a Slave” says he was captivated by the film’s themes.

“It was an interesting conversation about leadership — what self-sacrifice means in terms of leadership — and has a real engagement with optimism and positivity in terms of leadership and what is beneficial to most people, and what part leadership plays in that. I felt there was something very rich in the script,” he says.

Even Prince Philip was built to break stereotypes and challenge perspectives, according to Dickinson.

Angelina Jolie brought Maleficent to life in 2014. (Supplied)

“I saw him as this young man trying to figure out how to find his voice and challenge the perspectives of his parents and rule in a more inclusive way,” he says. “(Director Joachim Rønning) and I spoke about him as not just the archetype of a Disney prince who comes along and saves the day.”

While Skrein’s Borra at first seems to be the cliched hawkish brute, he too turns out to be more openminded than he appears.

“The love and understanding of Conall’s message really resonated more, and we do see Borra go on a real arc or journey of his moral stance,” Skrein says. “I think that comes from Conall and that’s why we have to try and preach empathy and peace over violence as much as we can.”