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Masterpieces of Buddhist, Hindu and Jain Art

Tulsi Vatsal

By Grace Morley Foreword by Kapila Vatsyayan
Roli Books, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 144, price not stated.


What could one expect an elderly non- Indian, a specialist in modern European and Mexican art to contribute to the creation of a museum of Indian ancient and medieval art? Not much, one would reasonably predict. But Grace Morley proved her critics wrong. Appointed the first director of the National Museum of Art in Delhi in 1960, despite her age (60 years) and despite her unfamiliarity with Indian art, Morley succeeded in not only giving the National Museum ‘a character, a body and shape’, but also in ‘(putting) India with its vast and valuable art treasures on the world map’ in the space of just six years.   In her warm Foreword to Indian Sculpture, Kapila Vatsyayan describes how the American museologist, reputed for being an ‘unapproachable, aloof and an exacting taskmaster’ became ‘a friend, guide and philosopher.’ ‘I became a pupil,’ says Vatsayayan, ‘ Or may I say a disciple.’ Each opportunity of working with her ‘became an enriching, eye-opening experience.’ Praising Morley’s enthusiasm for the heritage of Southeast Asia, her meticulous attention to detail and her tireless energy, Vatsayayan describes how ‘years of arrears of accessions were cleared… cataloguing and documentation on scientific lines begun, conservation work launched and display galleries transformed beyond recognition in the course of two or three years’. International specialists were brought in, and an entire generation of young Indian museologists trained.   It is not clear exactly when Grace Morley wrote Indian Sculpture, nor why it was published only in 2005, some twenty years after her death. One can only assume that the book is intended as a tribute to the author. If this is indeed the case, Indian Sculpture is a disappointing and inadequate tribute to a woman whose very real and lasting contributions to Indian art won her the Padma Bhushan in 1982.   Vatsyayan’s Foreword to Indian Sculpture is followed by a Preface which is undated. Although it uses the first person, one is left with the uncomfortable feeling that it has not been written entirely by Grace Morley herself. Considering the fact that Morley died long, long before the publication of the book, what is one to make of the following statement: ‘Finally it is a pleasure to record here the appreciation of the publisher’s patience in striving for the excellence desired by all concerned.’?   The works represented in the volume are masterpieces of Buddhist, Hindu and Jain art. It is emphasized that although ‘...

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