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Inscribed above in nasta’liq: Raja Chitter Sen maqam-i Bardvan and Burdwan Raja Chitter Sain

Private collection, USA

The Raja dressed all in white and cream save for a brocade patka and turban-band sits on a rug on a terrace holding a flower. He is supported by cream cushions and a cream and red bolster embroidered with flowers. His spittoon and pan box are placed before him. Chittar Sen was raja of Burdwan in western Bengal 1740-44 when Alivardi Khan was Nawab 1740-56. Burdwan had long been a zamindar holding, but Chittar Sen was awarded the title of Raja by the emperor Muhammd Shah.
The pale watercolour appearance of the portrait conforms to a strain in Murshidabad painting in the late 18th century, of which the prime example is an album in the British Library from around 1790 which contains portraits in similar style of all the principal actors in the affairs of Bengal in the period 1740 to 1760 during the transition from Mughal to East India Company control. See Mildred Archer, Company Drawings in the India Office Library, HMSO, London, 1972, no. 39, and pl. 19.

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.