Monday December 23, 2013
Tags for: Cleveland Museum of Art Acquires Benkaim Collection of Deccan and Mughal Paintings
  • Press Release

Cleveland Museum of Art Acquires Benkaim Collection of Deccan and Mughal Paintings

exterior of the CMA building

Internationally recognized collection makes CMA world leader

For more information, please contact:
Caroline Guscott, 216-707-2261,

Saeko Yamamoto, 216-707-6898,

CLEVELAND (December 23, 2013) – The Cleveland Museum of Art announced today the acquisition of the Catherine Glynn Benkaim and Ralph Benkaim Collection of Deccan and Mughal Paintings, an unparalleled private collection of 95 works from India’s major Islamic courts. The Benkaim Collection contains extremely rare folios and has been represented in many publications, exhibitions and research projects on Indian painting for the last several decades. The acquisition, made possible in part through the support of an anonymous donor, immediately elevates the museum to a world-class leader in this field. Nine of the works will be on view in the museum’s permanent collection galleries of Indian and Southeast Asian art, opening on December 31, 2013 as part of the grand opening festivities for the museum.

“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 Mughal Empire was established in 1526 and expanded to include most of the Indian subcontinent as well as the regions of present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan by the end of the 17th century. The homeland of the Mughals was in Ferghana, in present-day Uzbekistan, and though they spoke the Turkic language of Chagatai, they admired and emulated Persian art and literature. The unique blending of Persian and Indian themes and styles, along with European elements adopted from paintings and engravings brought by the Jesuits, resulted in a new type of art form known as Mughal painting.

“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 works in the Benkaim Collection range in date from the 1550s, the very beginning of painting practice in the Mughal court, through the late 18th century. The collection also includes 15 paintings from the court ateliers of the Deccan, located in India’s southern regions, which are contemporaneous with the imperial Mughal centers to the north. This acquisition significantly expands the museum’s existing collection of Deccan and Mughal paintings and adds rare works of the highest quality and scholarly importance. Highlights include: Emperor Shah Jahan Holding a Crest Jewel, a portrait from the album of the emperor who was responsible for building the Taj Mahal; A Floral Fantasy of Animals and Birds (Waq-waq), which presents a vision of creatures effervescing from the most remarkable of plants, inspired by descriptions of a talking tree in the Koran; and a rare, full-page illustration from the Five Treasures (Panj Ganj) of Jami depicting Zulaykha preparing to seduce Yusuf—a Persian poetical version of the Biblical and Koranic story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife.

“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.

Contact the Museum's Media Relations Team:
(216) 707-2261