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Lot Details

Private Collection, USA

Inscribed on the verso in nagari: Thakuran Ajit Singh ji Ghanerao and Thakuran Tej Singh ji

Ghanerao is one of the thikanas of Marwar or Jodhpur, situated south of the capital and close to the Mewar border. A long continued tradition of royal portraiture was maintained by the Thakurs from the early 18th century to the middle of the 19th (see Crill 2000 ‘Ghanerao’ for its history). Thakur Ajit Singh (r. 1800-56) was one of the last rulers to keep up this tradition and several portraits of him and of his son Pratap Singh survive (see Crill op. cit., figs. 12-15). In our splendid double portrait Ajit Singh (on the right) holding a wine cup is seated opposite Thakur Tej Singh (whose thikana is not given in the inscription) who holds a flower, while attendants wave morchhals over them. They are both smoking from hookahs, and being entertained by two male musicians and seven female singers in a courtyard on a terrace. The sarangi and tabla players are especially well observed. Noblemen sit behind each Thakur, some holding wine cups. Two pavilions frame the action between which is a pool with fountains while a distant garden can be seen beyond. The clouds are arranged above in overlapping curls, one of the fashions peculiar to Marwar painting at this time. At the bottom of the picture in the centre of the action as if an attendant walks forward holding a cup and pouring wine from a flask into it.

Special points of interest in our painting include the male hairstyles: Tej Singh and all the men on his side have shaved the back of their heads and let their hair grow into curled dreadlocks behind their ears. Turban styles on both sides with their relatively flat turban cloths secured by differently coloured bands are very different from the high peaked style of turban worn at this time in Man Singh’s court in Jodhpur itself. The two principles and several of their nobles are wearing muslin jamas embroidered with the chikan work of Lucknow. Tej Singh has a jewelled dagger stuck through his cummerbund, while Ajit Singh has a pistol in the same place, a detail not often seen in paintings, and holds his katar in his unoccupied hand. The movements of the head and body of the tabla player are especially well observed.

The painting is very much in the style of Dana of Jodhpur who painted other portraits of Ajit Singh and his son at Ghanerao (Crill 2000 ‘Ghanerao’, figs. 12-13) as well as the Thakur of Chandawal (Crill 2000 ‘Marwar‘ fig. 102). All three have much the same sort of composition on a terrace between pavilions and with a distant garden. The balustrades with their interlaced arches are common to many Jodhpur paintings at this time, but the beautifully painted flowers with trees beyond seen in other examples of Dana’s work are rarer. As usual in Jodhpur painting at this time, little attention is paid to relative scale, so the less important figures even if nearer the viewer are smaller than the main ones.

Crill, R., Marwar Painting: A History of the Jodhpur Style, India Book House Ltd., Bombay, 2000
Crill, R., ‘The Thakurs of Ghanerao as Patrons of Painting’ in Topsfield, A., ed., Court Painting in Rajasthan, Marg Publications, Bombay, 2000, pp. 92-108

EXPERT : J. P. Losty
J. P. Losty was for many years curator of Indian visual materials in the British Library in London and has published many books and articles on painting in India from the 12th to the 19th centuries.

Artiana would like to thank J. P. Losty for his expertise and assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.

Classical Indian Painting

Classical Indian Paintings - an ode to the rich history of art in India - are divided into Rajput, Mughal, Deccani, Pahari and other schools, each having their signature stylisations. These paintings, across all the various schools display a strong connection with nature, people and early Indian culture and tradition. Although these pictures seen at a glance, are easily recognized as Indian in origin, they are a confluence of various cultures and traditions. This genre of classical Indian art is also an important window into the past, as the images reliably depict the surroundings and milieu around the time of their execution.

The tradition of Indian miniature painting finds its beginnings around the 7th century ACE. Appearing as text illustrations, these paintings emerged primarily in Jain and Buddhist palm leaf manuscripts. Reaching a high level of sophistication in 15th century, the style grew steadily, sustaining its similarity with other schools of miniature painting while articulating a unique aesthetics of its own. The schools of miniature painting consist of two broad variants – the first centred on Islamic elements unique to Iran and Turkey, and the second an indigenous tradition of India. Indian miniature paintings are famed for its diverse qualities – its myriad themes, subtle aesthetics, stylistic diversity, sensuality, religiosity and the opulent life of the royals to name a few.

Mughal painting sprouted and grew during the Mughal Empire (16th to 19th centuries). It was exclusive to the nobles and royalty its development depended, to a great extent on, the patronage of this class of society. With its origins in Central Asia, the Mughal empire was heavily influenced by Persian cultural trends, which was taken to new heights in India. The paintings are known for its subtlety and appreciation of historical or quasi-scientific themes in nature. Its scientific quality ensured that the paintings were largely secular in nature, consisting of allusions to natural life, literature and the routines of royalty. The Mughals were best known for their fusion of Indo-Islamic culture, and early Emperors — particularly Akbar (1556-1605) — commissioned paintings to illustrate Hindu epics as well as various Persian texts.

The Rajasthani School emerges around the 16th century as an off shoot of the early Mewar paintings. Later several states of Rajasthan had developed their own individual styles of painting, the most prominent amongst them were Kota, Bundi, Bikaner, Kishangarh and Mewar and Jaipur. Rajputs of the time, who patronised the art to a great extent, ensured that it featured themes of religion and literature in a distinct sense. Once Rajasthani Miniature painting came into being, it progressed quickly under local painters. While the influence of the Mughal style was unmistakable, the style retained its unique lyrical temperament and classical worldview.

At the close of the 7th century, the Pahari school of painting developed in the Hills of Punjab, which, at the time, grew in the margins of mainstream culture and art. The lively and romantic school of Pahari miniaturists produced some of the finest religious scenes, offering a glimpse of the daily mind and sentiment of India. The earliest Pahari School of miniature painting is called Basholi. Basholi had produced some wonderful portraits and is famed for its Rasamanjari series. Pahari art, produced in Kangra under Raja Sansar Chand is known for its pronounced rhythmic quality. The Vaishnavite tradition of Hinduism, celebrating the love of Radha and Krishna, bears its distinct stamp of the Kangra style.

Deccani painting grew almost simultaneously with Mughal art, with Ahmednagar, Golkonda, Bijapur, and subsequently Hyderabad as its centres. Most of the painters working at these courts were immigrants of Turkey, Iran and Europe, and had brought with them their artistic idioms and skills. Deccani art attained a great maturity in form and sophistication, acquiring the same regard as Mughal paintings.