October 7, 2023–April 7, 2024
Featuring arts of the book from South Asia and the Persianate world, produced from the 12th through the 19th centuries, Pearls from the Ocean of Contentment explores new ways of presenting the Museum’s world-renowned Edwin Binney 3rd Collection of paintings, drawings, calligraphies, and manuscripts from South Asia, Iran, and Central Asia by focusing on the regional contours and geographies of India and surrounding areas.
Many of the featured works were once bound in elaborately illustrated manuscripts, some surviving in complete form. Others were assembled in albums as personalized collections of painting, drawing, and calligraphy. Made primarily in royal workshops, they have typically been categorized by court or dynasty and the regions in which they flourished. Most of the works were eventually acquired by Edwin Binney 3rd (1925–1986), a Harvard-educated heir to the Crayola fortune with a wide-ranging interest in the arts, who then bequeathed his collection to the Museum. Intended to be encyclopedic in scope, the Museum’s Binney collection of over 1,400 works surveys every major school of painting across seven centuries. This rotating display explores the collection and its diversity through the regional contours and geographies of India and surrounding areas.
Unfortunately, as manuscripts moved onto the art market, they were often disassembled and sold as individual folios of painting and calligraphy, destroying the original context for the images. While Binney’s position of privilege allowed him abundant access to and participation in this market, the collection’s size, range, and bequest reflect an ultimate desire for it to be preserved and shared with the public. Today, these works engage and delight audiences through their subject matter, narratives, and themes, providing insight about artists, workshops, and the production of painting and books in these regions.
The Herat-born Persian Muslim scholar Khwandamir (1474–1534), who spent his final years in India at the court of the Mughal emperor Babur (r. 1526–30), commented on the value of the cultivated contents of these albums and their legacies:
Every coveted pearl that is nourished in the ocean of contentment is to be found in this sea.
Featured at top right: Kayam, Maharaja Sujan Singh of Bikaner (detail), ca. 1710. Opaque watercolor and gold on paper. Edwin Binney 3rd Collection, 1990.796.