The National Museum of Asian Art in Washington D.C. has an exhibition A Splendid Land: Paintings from Royal Udaipur (opened November 19, 2022). This announcement of Royal Udaipur, made me think about an onsite appraisal I did nearly fifteen years ago. I was using a walker, my assistant was my good friend Katie Ai, now deceased, and the location was a converted garage in the Noe Valley district of San Francisco, and my expectations quite minimum. I was asked to inspect a large painting of the Maharaja of Udaipur for authenticity and then insurance.
It was early 2011 and the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, had on exhibit ‘Maharaja’ organized by London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, where it opened, and arrived for a 5 1/2-month run. The show surveyed the life and times of many maharajas from the 18th through the mid-20th centuries. Included in the exhibition was a large, approximately 5’ x 8’, water color pigment on gauche, portrait of the Maharaja from Udaipur done around early 1900’s.
I had mentioned to Katie beforehand, if the client did indeed have an Indian painting of the Maharaja of Udaipur, I would want to stop by the museum after our inspection. I rolled through along the driveway into the converted garage and was stunned by the beautiful painting on the wall. A week earlier I received a phone call from a woman whose 15-year old son took school field trip to the Asian Art Museum during the Maharaja exhibit and. reported to her that “our painting is just like the one in the exhibit”. This is a phrase I hear too often. I listened on the phone to this woman, a story that involved her mother and a loan, an art dealer and Monte Carlo, and further intrigue.
After our inspection, we did indeed go to the Asian Art Museum to compare quality. Her son had been right, her painting was even more fabulous than the one owned by the V & A. As we were standing in front of Maharaja of Udaipur painting at museum, the Chief curator came into the exhibit with his special guests and stood next to us. I had my iPad with photo of client’s painting with details in front of me and the curator leaned over and exclaimed “Oh Cynthia, where is that?” I explained where it was, we discussed conservation and the name of owner was exchanged. Last week I passed on the National Museum of Asian Art in Washington D.C. exhibition A Splendid Land: Paintings from Royal Udaipur to original client from so long ago. She answered her son had done an internship his senior year at the Asian Art Museum, was now getting PHD in Chinese art and was in Washington DC with his mother and that painting of the Maharaja of Udaipur had changed his life. To me, it remains one of my most remarkable appraisal stories today.