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Lot Details

Private Collection, USA

A Muslim clothed in a blue robe and a blue cap is kneeling at worship outside the iwan of a mosque with the Koran on a stand beside him. A woman dressed in normal Hindu south Indian costume is standing behind him, looking rather puzzled. Small gravestones are situated on the plinth of the mosque, while the buildings surrounding the courtyard are visible behind with trees beyond.

The place is identifiable through what is visible beyond the trees, i.e. the top of the famous rock of Trichinopoly, modern day Tiruchirapalli, in Tamil Nadu state. The mosque is a typical south Indian one of an arcaded prayer hall with two small minarets rising from the corners of the façade.

The painting looks as if it ought to be part of a set of castes and occupations done by a Tanjore artist in the early 19th century, which normally show a man and woman together with the tools or their trade or occupation, but these have neutral backgrounds and are rarely localised to this extent. However, a painting from an album of trades and castes from Tanjore in the British Museum from around 1830 (Dallapiccola 2010, cat. no. 15.31, p. 192) shows the same scene with praying Muslim, Koran and mosque but with the woman in a Muslim type of costume, so it would seem that our painting was once in such an album. Other sets from Tanjore can be more place specific, such as a set in the V&A Museum of ten paintings in landscape format from Tanjore c. 1800 of festivals and processions, and indeed one of these shows the same mosque with people praying and with the rock rising behind (AL 8802, Archer 1992, no. 21(4), p. 54, unillustrated, but see the V&A website).

Archer, M., Company Paintings: Indian Paintings of the British Period, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1992
Dallapiccola, A., South Indian Paintings: A Catalogue of the British Museum Collections, British Museum Press, London, 2010

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.

Company Painting

‘Company painting’ is a broad term for a variety of hybrid styles that developed as a result of European (especially British) influence on Indian artists from the early 18th to the 19th centuries. It evolved as a way of providing paintings that would appeal to European patrons who found the purely indigenous styles not to their taste. As many of these patrons worked for the various East India companies, the painting style came to be associated with the name, although it was in fact also used for paintings produced for local rulers and other Indian patrons.

The subject matter of company paintings made for western patrons was often documentary rather than imaginative, and as a consequence, the Indian artists were required to adopt a more naturalistic approach to painting than had traditionally been usual. Europeans commissioned sets of images depicting festivals and scenes from Indian life or albums illustrating the various castes and occupations, as well as the architecture, plants and animals of the sub-continent. While most of the works were painted on paper, there was also a fashion for images of Mughal monuments and Mughal rulers and their wives painted on small plaques of ivory. This increased use of western approaches to painting coincided with the later phases of local painting styles, as manifested in centres such as Lucknow, Murshidabad and Delhi in North India and Mysore and Thanjavur in the South.