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Cleveland Museum of Art acquires Benkaim Deccan and Mughal painting collection

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Internationally recognized collection makes CMA world leader

The Cleveland Museum of Art has announced the acquisition of 95 works of the Catherine Glynn Benkaim and Ralph Benkaim collection of Deccan and Mughal paintings. This collection is considered an unparalleled group of works from India’s major Islamic courts.

Included in the Benkaim Collection are selections of rare folios that have been seen in many publications, exhibitions and research projects for decades. The purchase of the collection was made possible in part through the help of an anonymous donor. The collection elevates the museum as a world class leader in this particular field.

As part of the upcoming grand opening festivities at the museum, nine of the works will be on exhibit in the Indian and Southeast Asian art permanent collection galleries.

“It is thrilling to have the opportunity to announce an acquisition that fulfills the central mission of the Cleveland Museum of Art: to bring the best of the world's art to the people of Cleveland,” stated Fred Bidwell, interim director of the Cleveland Museum of Art. “The Benkaim Collection beautifully augments our holdings in an area for which the museum is world renowned. These masterworks come to us at an extraordinarily opportune moment, as we prepare to celebrate the opening of the Indian and Southeast Asian galleries on New Year's Eve.”

The works come from the Mughal Empire that came into existence in 1526. The empire covered most of the Indian subcontinent and had expanded as far as present day Pakistan and Afghanistan by the end of the 17th century. The artwork is a blending of Persian and Indian themes and styles as well as influence from paintings and engravings that the Jesuits brought to the region from Europe.

“Imperial Mughal painting of India has been a highly prized art form, celebrated for its international vision and exquisite refinement and sophistication,” said Sonya Quintanilla, George P. Bickford curator of Indian and Southeast Asian art. “The illustrated tales and luxurious album pages that reflect the taste and personalities of their imperial patrons have been a source of inspiration and delight to scholars and connoisseurs for centuries, both in Asia and the West.”

“The Benkaims meticulously selected each work with an eye to quality and a scholar’s desire to represent key passages in the history of Mughal painting,” added Quintanilla. “With the acquisition of the Benkaim Collection, the importance of Indian painting at the Cleveland Museum of Art becomes commensurate with the museum’s peerless collection of sculpture. When the paintings are rotated in the galleries twice yearly in accordance with conservation guidelines, the museum now has sufficient depth in its holdings to support engaging and dazzling installations on an ongoing basis. I cannot imagine a better match for Cleveland.”

About the Collectors

All of the paintings are from the collection of Catherine Glynn Benkaim and Ralph Benkaim of Beverly Hills, California. Catherine Glynn Benkaim is a widely published, highly accomplished scholar in the field of Indian painting. She holds a Ph.D. in Indian art history from the University of Southern California, and she was a curator of Indian art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In 2009, she received the Award for Museum Scholarship presented by the American College Art Association for the 2008 catalogue and exhibition, “Garden and Cosmos: Indian Painting from the Jodhpur Royal Collections”.

Ralph Benkaim (1914–2001), an entertainment lawyer based in Los Angeles, became enamored of Persian painting when stationed in Iran during World War II. After an initial Islamic purchase while on a business trip to Denmark in late 1961, Ralph turned his attention to building an exceptional collection of Persian and Indian paintings, both Islamic and Hindu. He primarily acquired works at auctions throughout the 1960s, which was a critical time when important Indian paintings were coming on the market in the decades after Independence.

In 1970, Catherine, who was attending graduate school at UCLA, was hired to work in the newly formed Indian and Islamic department at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Within a few months it was inevitable that Catherine would meet the one person in Los Angeles who shared an interest in Indian and Islamic painting, Ralph Benkaim. A friendship and then a courtship developed with Indian and Islamic painting at the foundation. Beginning in the early 1970s, developing and increasing the Benkaim Collection was an immensely pleasurable joint effort which included travel to auctions, visits to museums with Indian and Islamic collections, and most satisfactorily, acquiring a worldwide network of friends and colleagues.

Though Ralph’s death in 2001 ended their thirty year partnership in building the collection, Catherine went on to spend another decade refining the collection to its essential core. The Deccan and Mughal paintings offered to Cleveland form a distinguished and historic collection lovingly assembled over a fifty-year period.

About the Cleveland Museum of Art

The Cleveland Museum of Art is renowned for the quality and breadth of its collection, which includes almost 45,000 objects and spans 6,000 years of achievement in the arts. Currently undergoing an ambitious, multi-phase renovation and expansion project across its campus, the museum is a significant international forum for exhibitions, scholarship, performing arts and art education. One of the top five comprehensive art museums in the nation, and the only one that is free of charge to all, the Cleveland Museum of Art is located in the dynamic University Circle neighborhood.

The Cleveland Museum of Art is supported by a broad range of individuals, foundations and businesses in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio. The museum is generously funded by Cuyahoga County residents through Cuyahoga Arts and Culture. Additional support comes from the Ohio Arts Council, which helps fund the museum with state tax dollars to encourage economic growth, educational excellence and cultural enrichment for all Ohioans. For more information about the museum, its holdings, programs and events, call 888-CMA-0033 or visit www.ClevelandArt.org.

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