Thursday, March 19, 2015

Aga Khan Museum, Toronto

Bill and I visited Toronto's newest museum with our friend Nancy yesterday. The Aga Khan Museum opened last fall.
We're pleased to report that the collection is absolutely sensational. Item by item, the Aga Khan in Toronto matches or surpasses the many times larger Islamic collections at the Met, the British Museum and the Louvre.
The architect is Fumihiko Maki.
You don't need detailed historical knowledge to see the outstanding freshness of the painting on this beaker. Iran, 1200-19. Fritware, in-glaze and overglaze-painted.
Here's another ceramic from the room that houses the personal collection of Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan (Bellerive Room). What an amazing creature -- that face.
 Nancy and Bill looking at a map of historic Islamic empires.
Two Species of Sea Onion. Leaf from the Khawass al-Ashjar (The Characteristics of Trees). Iraq, 1200. Ink and colour on paper. Lovely. 
We soon realized that every item on display was a perfect example of its type. Expect to see one masterpiece after another. Sayings of Pythagoras. Probably Iraq, late 13th century. Ink, watercolour and gold on paper.
And look at the gorgeous calligraphy of this 11th century Qur'an. Ink, gold and opaque watercolour on paper.
Tunic. Iran, early 14th century brocaded silk. I can see myself in this. A man my age could use that corseted waist!
Some pictures to give you a sense of the overall lightness and clarity of the displays.
I need to go back and have a closer look at their collection of Qur'ans. Baghdad, Iraq, mid-14th century. Ink, watercolour and gold on paper.
Mansur's Anatomy. Probably Iran, mid-17th century. Ink and watercolour on paper.
Book of Ecstasy by 'Afefi (d. ca. 1449), copied by Shah Mahmud Neyshaburi. Iran, 16th century. Ink, watercolour and gold on paper.
A great title for all times: The Comfort of Rulers Confronted with the Hostility of their Followers, by Ibn Zafar al-Siqilli (d. 1165). Syria, 1340-50. Watercolour and gold on paper.
Story of Haftvad and the worm. Tabriz, Iran, ca. 1540. Opaque watercolour, ink, gold and silver on paper. Detail, below.
Must return for a longer look at the Aga Khan's superb collection of miniature paintings: more masterpieces. The quality of the composition, the line, the freshness of the colour jumps right out at you.

Toronto art lovers can also rejoice in a half-dozen masterpieces by British painter Howard Hodgkin in the Inspired By India show, also at the Aga Khan (until June 21st). This painting In the Garden of the Bombay Museum is one of the finest Hodgkins I've seen. This snapshot only hints at this large (4 x 5 feet) painting's quality. 
Surf. 1990-91. Hand painted gouache on intaglio impressed Khadi paper. Find more prints by Hodgkin in Toronto at Metivier Gallery (until March 28th).
The mezzanine overlooking the main floor galleries is currently filled with Hodgkin's extensive collection of Indian paintings and drawings of the Mughal period.
We couldn't take pictures but we did buy the catalogue. Here are two highlights . 
I loved this portrait of Prince Aurangzeb. (c. 1653-55. Gouache with gold on paper.)
Bill drew my attention to this charming sketch: Balwant Singh and a Goose (c.1750-60. Brush drawing with light pigment on uncoloured paper.)
All in all, we had a fabulous time. We would consider the Aga Khan museum to be in the top five reasons to visit Toronto. Not to be missed. Note: the admission is $20. Allow two hours  to see the collection and any temporary shows properly.
Will return in the spring and summer, when the trees and fountains of the central plaza will be at their best. We also want to visit the new Ismaili Center, above, designed by Indian architect Charles Correa.

Note March 20th: We just learned that the Aga Khan offers free admission on Wednesday evenings from 4 pm to 8 pm.

Related post: Howard Hodgkin at Gagosian Rome.


  1. Beautiful pictures cousin John. I will put this on my too see list and take you advise to come in the spring and/or summer to see the grounds. Thank you for the posts.

  2. Breathtaking! It's on my list of places to see.

  3. I will definitely visit this museum in the near future.

  4. Sharon, it is definitely a new Destination in Toronto. I'm happy you liked the pics. Shelley and Dorota, we're so lucky to have it. Glad you dropped by.

  5. Wow - it looks amazing. Thank you for the post. I really want to go see it for myself now. Your photos show the colour and the design so beautifully.

  6. Thanks, Q. Hard to go wrong at this museum.

  7. Thanks for the preview, John. It's on my list to do in April, before the Dhow exhibit finishes.

  8. Dhow exhibit is quite fun. We particularly liked a hoard of small dishes with loosely painted decorations -- very fresh.

  9. I am going on Wednesday to visit. Thank you for nice post

  10. Have a great time, Sadko. Let us know how you make out. Bill and John