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Lot Details

H. Kevorkian collection, no. 1114
Private Collection, USA

A male acrobat stands bracing himself to support on his chin an upright pole with a little platform at the top, on which stands a woman balancing herself on one foot. A male musician stands beside them beating a drum. She is dressed in a stitched-up red sari and a blue and white blouse as well as decked with the heavy gold jewellery of the south. The two men, both of them with moustaches, wear red drawers and Maratha-style turbans in white or blue, along with necklaces of gold and red beads and large gold hooped earrings. They also wear conspicuous Shaiva sectarian marks on their foreheads.

Albums illustrating the various castes and occupations of the people of south India were a speciality of the Tanjore muchis, originally leather-workers, who became the predominant caste of artists in south India in the British period. The albums were produced from about 1770 to 1820 and generally showed couples standing side by side, a man and his wife, carrying the implements of their profession or trade. They remained essentially static, although at a later period the figures were assembled into grander groups or processional scenes.

The style of the page with plain blue sky enlivened by clouds diving through it and a ground sloping back to a tree-covered horizon indicates a date around 1800, when more picturesque types of landscape were introduced into Tanjore painting. U-shaped shadows become ubiquitous at this date. For paintings of comparable date from Tanjore, see Archer 1972, pl. 4, and Archer 1992, no.2 (14), p. 56. In later decades the drawing and colouring became coarser but here the subject is treated freshly with particularly good faces. The pole bearer gazes up at the woman intently, gauging her movements to keep his pole in balance, while the drummer looks out at the viewer with an almost sardonic expression on his face. For a more elaborate later scene of tumblers and acrobats from Tanjore, see Dallapiccola 2010, cat. 14.11, p. 182).

Archer, M., Company Drawings in the India Office Library, HMSO, London, 1972
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.