Telling Tales - Mughal India

From Ancient Egypt to Baroque Bologna to avant-garde Moscow, the works at Frieze Masters open up a world of stories

A Swiss adventurer's souvenir of Holi

Prahlad Bubbar, F10


Attributed to Mihr Chand, with calligraphy by Hafiz Nur Ullah, Ladies celebrate Holi in a pleasure pavilion (detail), c.1780, watercolour and gold on paper album, folio 46×62 cm, painting 29×43 cm

Attributed to Mihr Chand, with calligraphy by Hafiz Nur Ullah, Ladies celebrate Holi in a pleasure pavilion (detail), c.1780, watercolour and gold on paper album, folio 46×62 cm, painting 29×43 cm

Antoine Polier was an 18th-century Swiss aristocrat, adventurer, military engineer and spy. He was also a connoisseur and collector of Indian art. 
Working in turn for Clive of India, the Governor-General of Bengal and the Nawab of Awadh, he amassed a fortune, and developed his taste for and understanding of Indian culture: learning Persian and Hindi, collecting fine Mughal and Deccani art, commissioning new paintings, and taking not one but two Indian wives.

Polier’s training as an engineer evidently had a bearing on his taste: a strong sense of perspective and architectural accuracy is visible in his commissions, like this one’s islands within pools and interconnected bridges. This painting forms a leaf in a souvenir album of scenes decorated by Polier’s retained artist, Mihr Chand, who trained at the court of the Mughals (the Muslim emperors from whom the word ‘Mogul’ comes). This scene conveys the elegance of courtly life, with a group of finely dressed women celebrating the Hindu ‘festival of colours’, Holi, in exactly the way people do today – by dousing each other with coloured pigments.

The delicate costumes, tents, flowers, golden trays and fine jewels testify to the grandeur and ease of life in 18th-century Lucknow. Polier himself would not enjoy such comforts for long; in 1788 he left India for Europe, perishing in the French Revolution.

Issue 3

First published in Issue 3

October 2016

Most Read

Q. What is art for? A. To tell us where we are.
The work of filmmaker James N. Kienitz Wilkins on the occasion of his inclusion in the 2017 Whitney Biennial film...
Trisha Brown has died, aged 80; two new appointments at London’s ICA; controversy at the Whitney
A round-up of the best shows to see in the city ahead of this week’s Art Basel Hong Kong
How should the artistic community respond when an art space, explicitly or implicitly, associates itself with right-...
Charlie Fox on a new translation of Hervé Guibert's chronicle of love, lust and drug-addled longing
Three highlights from the New York festival promoting emerging filmmakers
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, USA
A report and the highlights from a show themed around fluidity, flux, botany and the subterranean
From growing protests over the gentrification of Boyle Heights to Schimmel leaving Hauser & Wirth, the latest from...
kurimanzutto, Mexico City, Mexico
Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Zurich, Switzerland
The body is a troubled thing ...
Sir Howard Hodgkin dies aged 84; finalists for Berlin’s Preis der Nationalgalerie 2017 announced

From the Women's Strike to a march that cancels itself out: what to read this weekend
The most interesting works in the IFFR’s Short Film section all grappled with questions of truth, honesty and...
With the reissue of their eponymous debut album, revisiting the career of legendary Berlin art project / punk band Die...
Galeria Jaqueline Martins, São Paulo, Brazil 

Tramway, Glasgow, UK
A work by self-taught artist Martín Ramírez
Munich’s Haus der Kunst embroiled in Scientology scandal; Martín Ramírez to inaugurate the new ICA LA
If politics today obsesses over the policing of borders, art in France is enacting multiple crossings
A new video installation from Richard Mosse investigates the refugee crisis
Gustav Metzger has died aged 90; director of the Met resigns
What draws us to certain stories, and why do we retell them? 
It’s time that the extraordinary life and work of Anya Berger was acknowledged

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

Nov - Dec 2016

frieze magazine

Jan - Feb 2017

frieze magazine

March 2017