CHRISTIE'S: Magical Indian Miniatures
A terrific memorabilia of India’s magnificent past – the Arts of India sale at Christie’s London showcases some intricate miniatures that evoke intense memories of proud nostalgia, writes Uma Nair.
Arts of India at Christie's London on June 12, 2018, is a celebration of India's past as much as it is about Indian heritage, with undeniable yet beautiful Moghul influences. Ripe and rounded, land reliefs a tad bit bright, here are works that echo classicism, perfection and love for the land.
Comprising 157 lots, the Arts of India sale has some jewel toned works. A highlight of the sale is an important illustrated manuscript of the Ramayana from Jaipur, dated 1796-97 AD (lot 76). It is thought to have once belonged to Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi, the warrior queen who was a leading figure in the Indian Revolt of 1857. The sale also features a private Dutch collection, illustrating examples of 18th and 19th century paintings from the Mughal, Rajput and Pahari courts of northern India. The collection includes four pages from the famed Polier Albums made for the 18th century Swiss adventurer and collector of Indian art, Antoine Louis Henri Polier (lots 21-24) and a resplendent folio from the second Guler Ramayana series dated to circa 1790-1800 (lot 26).
The beauty of these works is the truth that you can peer into their depths – and study the rectangles of intensely painted manuscript, gem-like in their detail and colour.
Lot 6 is a stunning portrait with verdant foliage replete with peacocks. An illustration to a Ragamala series: Kakubha Ragini belongs to Bundi, Kota or possibly Raghogarh, Rajasthan, North India, circa 1770-80 – it is made of opaque pigments heightened with gold on paper, the heroine holding two floral sprigs surrounded by peacocks walking near a stream in a forest. Catalogue notes suggest the name kakubha implies a summit, splendour or beauty, but also the garlands of champaka flowers that hang from this ragini's hands. She is shown as a heroine deserted by her lover, who wanders dejectedly in an open landscape beneath the monsoon clouds.
A closely related ragamala painting, depicting a lone heroine in the forest amidst birds preparing for a lover's tryst, attributed to Bundi or Kota, circa 1770, is in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (J.C. Harle and Andrew Topsfield, Indian Art in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, 1987, fig. 16, cat. 88, pp. 79-80). The Ashmolean painting derives in style from a slightly earlier series of 240 paintings, executed at Kota in 1768, most of which are in the Sarasvati Bhavan Library, Udaipur. Another related illustration of Kakubha Ragini, very similar in composition and style, is in the Cleveland Museum of Art (75.40) and attributed to the Raghogarh School, circa 17.
Lot 8 is an illustration to a Ragamala series: Punki or Punyaki Ragini Bundi, North India, first half 18th century. It consists of opaque pigments heightened with gold on paper, a beggar addresses the heroine at her balcony, her attendant stands at the door, the conversation is one that enchants. Punyaki means "the one who gives alms." The music of punyaki ragini has been compared to the sound of rushing water.
Lot 12 is a historic image of Maharaja Zorawar Singh hunting – it belongs to Kota, Rajasthan, North India, circa 1800. Deftly created with opaque pigments heightened with gold on paper, the ruler and his attendant are shown in ambush – as they shoot at two helpless antelopes fleeing. It brings back memories of the pastimes of the rich and royal sections of society.
Lot 17 is an illustration to a Ragamala series: Gaundkari Ragini of Malkauns Raga Deccan, Central India, third quarter 18th century. Made of opaque pigments heightened with gold on paper, the heroine is seated on a palace terrace, arranging two floral sprays, two cranes near a pool, in polychrome rules and red borders, it has a white calligraphic cartouche with Persian identification inscription.
Resplendent in red, Lot 18 is a mesmeric work. An illustration to a Ragamala series: Kakubha Ragini made in Amber or Jaipur, North India, first half 18th century, this work has been created out of opaque pigments and heightened with gold on paper, the heroine is seen standing and holding a floral garland in each hand, as she is surrounded by peacocks and musicians, in a hilly and forest landscape.
Scholars say, this illustration belongs to a ragamala set characterised by its palette of flaming reds and oranges, cool mauves and pale greens, with delicately rendered slender ladies in hilly landscapes fringed by dense vegetation or in white architectural settings with balconies and niches with bottles. The series was possibly produced in Amber or Jaipur around the mid-eighteenth century. Several standardised ragamala sets are known to exist from the first half of the eighteenth century, with similar dimensions, text panels, compositions and iconographies, they are variously attributed to Malpura, Jaipur, Malwa or Bikaner. What attracts is the perfect pastorale with peacocks.
Lot 25 is royalty and festivity at its best. It reflects a prince and a princess holding fireworks, it belongs to Provincial Mughal India, circa 1750-60. The attire of the prince and princess is one that heralds sophistication and class. While the prince wears a long ochre-toned angarakha, the princess wears a transparent dulcet long gathered angarakha that is both wispy and full of feminine allure. The fireworks that they light up are so perfectly placed. But, we must also look at the bottle brush plant leaves held by the princess in one hand, and the moon limned with gold, even as it floats on nimbus clouds, even as it looks like 'a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas'. It is the aesthetic of festivity and the balance of drama created with opaque pigments heightened with gold on paper that makes this the most fascinating work of all.
Lot 27 is done in embers of grey and brings us nocturnes in the Pahari style. A painting from a Nayika series: Abhisarika Nayika Kangra, Punjab Hills, North India, circa1820 – its background created in sooty tones with opaque pigments and heightened with gold on paper, shows an utterly feminine persona crossing the forest at night to meet her lover. While the flowers and plants all glisten around her, the heroine encounters a demon looking at her from the tree, and she drops her jewellery at her feet. There are snakes around, at her feet, the bushes have been embellished with jewel like luminous floral margins that look more like glistening jewellery. The might of miniatures and the treasure of memories they evoke is what makes this sale worthy of scrutiny to the collector and the viewer.