The Scholar's Vision:
The Pal Family Collection
Dr. Pratapaditya Pal, curator emeritus and scholar extraordinaire of Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian art, is one of the most influential forces in the field of Indian art and its most tireless propagator. His pioneering research and seminal publications include catalogues of the collections at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which he joined as a curator in 1970 upon the acquisition of the Heeramaneck collection by the museum, the Norton Simon Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago, monographs of numerous private collections, such as the Zimmerman Family Collection and the John and Berthe Ford Collection, as well as countless exhibitions. The impact his publications have had in furthering the interest and understanding of the arts of greater India worldwide cannot be overstated. In the collector's preface to "The Sensuous Immortals," featuring masterpieces from the Pan-Asian collection, one of the greatest private collections ever formed in the field, Christian Humann wrote about Dr. Pal in 1977: "In the past decade he has guided the evolution of the collection with skill, tact, and devotion. The prodigality of Dr. Pal's advice, his forbearance in the coordination of all the elements involved in the preparation of this exhibition, the evocative brilliance and informativeness of this text for the present catalog - all this and much more summon from the collector his deepest admiration and gratitude." This has been a guiding principle in all the collections.
Throughout his career, Dr. Pal also assembled a collection of his own. Reflecting his vision and mind, driven by idiosyncratic preference and consideration of areas that fell outside of the scope of the museum's interest, it offers many new and unique perspectives on Indian art. The pictorial arts form a core group, illustrating the various schools of painting in India as well as introducing an outside perspective. This includes topographical views from the British colonial period which didn't fall under the Indian department at the museum and were of marginal interest to the European departments, removing any conflict of interest, the lithographic prints after works of Raja Ravi Varma, even the color prints of the Japanese woodblock artist Hiroshi Yoshida illustrating Indian sites, as well as the striking 20th century graphic design of the tourist posters. There are rare and unusual sculptures in bronze and stone, including a Kashmiri Vishnu which was a gift from Nasli Heeramaneck, folk and village arts, mostly of smaller size, as well as the arts of Bengal and Calcutta, his native state and city. While some have previously featured in exhibitions, many will offer welcome surprises. Including a fine watercolor by Abindranath Tagore and reaching into contemporary art with a drawing by F.N. Souza, it spans nearly 2000 years of artistic expression in the Subcontinent, befitting the interests of a multi-faceted scholar. While there might not have been an unlimited acquisition budget available, the collection suffers from no constraints in brilliant insight and deep understanding, offering many affordable and exciting pieces for the new collector and experienced connoisseur alike.
As a collector, Dr. Pal is seeking a sense of detachment, yet as a curator he once again opens fresh views on India and its manifold cultural achievements. We share his hope that these works may enlighten and inspire collectors worldwide and thus become the seed of new collections, blessed by the imprimatur of a most illustrious provenance.
Dr. Hugo Weihe, International Director Asian Art and International Specialist Head, Indian and Southeast Asian Art