Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, September 23, 1999

The Ehrenfeld Collection
An Indian official receives British officers, circa 1829).
Goache on paper.

Passage to India
By Suzanne Tswei
Special to the Star-Bulletin


Dressed in a sapphire blue robe and draped with strands of white pearls and chunks of colored gems, the Maharani Chund Kowr looks splendid in the portrait completed in 1863.

During the three days she sat for her portrait, however, the wife of a powerful Hindu ruler was arrogant and difficult, refusing to speak to the artist. But the English painter George Richmond got in the last word -- without ever uttering a word.

He rendered a photographic likeness of his wealthy but ill-mannered patron. But there was only half of her. Richmond painted her from the chest up, ignoring the rest of her finery.

The 136-year-old gossip behind the portrait seems typical of early East-meets-West encounters. During the 18th and 19th centuries, when European colonialism brought Western influences to India, the two cultures thought little of each other. The Europeans viewed Indian art as inferior, and the Indians thought of European art as boring. But eventually, artists adapted the other culture's artistic traditions, creating hybrids that are not only aesthetically pleasing but also serve as historical records of life in India.

The Ehrenfeld Collection
A portrait of Maharaja Bhopal Singh of Khatoli, circa 1880,
by an anonymous Kotah painter. Goache on paper.

Nearly 100 such artworks are featured in "Interaction of Cultures, Indian and Western Painting (1780-1910) from the Ehrenfeld Collection" at the Honolulu Academy of Arts. The traveling exhibition was staged to coincide with the 50th anniversary of India's independence from British rule in 1998 and premiered in the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco.

The works depict a wide range of subjects: tigers, elephants and exotic animals, landscapes, tombs and mosques, battles, religious zealots, and men and women of distinction. The exhibit is drawn from the private collection of Dr. William K. Ehrenfeld, who is professor emeritus of vascular surgery at the University of California Medical Center.

Ehrenfeld had studied at the Art Students League in New York and planned to become a medical illustrator, but veered toward medicine. He began collecting Indian art in 1977 when Indian miniature paintings caught his eye at an auction house. Within 10 years, he established a research library and a large collection of India art.

To complement the exhibit, the academy has scheduled the following activities:

Bullet Lecture: "East and West: Meeting of the Twain in Mughal India" by Dr. Pratapaditya Pal, visiting curator at the Art Institute of Chicago, focusing on the early 17th century when the Mughal empire was at its zenith and the Taj Mahal was built, 2 p.m. Sunday at Academy Theatre. Cost $2.
Bullet Lecture: "The Maharajahs and the Jewelers of Place Vendome" by Larry French of the Milanese jeweler, the House of Buccellati, with slides of jewelry that resulted from the meeting of India and Paris during the first half of this century, 2 p.m. Oct. 10 at the Academy Theatre, followed by a reception. Free.
Bullet Concert: Featuring Zakir Hussain, a percussionist recognized by the government of India as a national treasure and his band, Rhythm Experience, will perform on Indian percussion instruments, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 8, at Academy Theatre. Cost $25.
Bullet Family Festival Day: "Magic Carpet to India," featuring puppet shows based on ancient Indian tales, keiki art activities, traditional Indian music and dance, 1 to 4:30 p.m. Oct. 17. Cost $1, free to children 12 and younger.
Bullet Free screening: "The Jungle Book" at the Academy Threatre 4 p.m. Oct. 17.

Glimpses of India

Bullet On Exhibit: "Interaction of Cultures, Indian and Western Painting (1780-1910) from the Ehrenfeld Collection"
Bullet Place: Honolulu Academy of Arts, 900 S. Beretania St.
Bullet Dates: 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, through Nov. 7
Bullet Cost: $7 general; $4 for seniors, students and military; free on the first Wednesday of the month
Bullet Call: 532-8700, or 532-8701 for recorded information

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