Artists: Notes on Art Making

Since the publication of Archer’s Painting in the Punjab Hills, London 1952, a good deal of information has been collected on the various schools of painting which flourished in the former Punjab Himalaya states. The rediscovery of the collection of paintings of the Rajas of Guler [1] by the present author has provided new clues to the paintings of hill schools and their origin. In the Guler collection, there are paintings of the Rajas from 1720 AD to 1890 AD. The style of these paintings, in which apart from portraits and family groups are to be seen shikar parties, processions, and dance performances, provides a key to the identification of paintings from Guler as well as to their dating. A study of these paintings has shown that right up to the 1890 AD a number of artists continued to work at Guler. The discovery of another set of Guler paintings with Capt. Sundar Singh, a descendant of the Wazir family of Guler, has further filled up gaps in our knowledge of the Guler school.

Paintings of Sansar Chand’s school which flourished at Sujanpur Tira, Alampur and Nadaun, were discovered from among the family collections of the Raja of Lambagraon [2] and his collateral, Mian Ram Singh of Bhawarna. [3] These paintings show that even after the death of Sansar Chand, the art of painting continued to flourish at Tira Sujanpur and Alampur. There are a number of paintings in which the chief figure is Anirudh Chand. In fact most of the paintings discovered in the collection of Mian Ram Singh of Bhawarna belong to the last period of Sansar Chand, or to his period of his son Anirudh Chand.

Apart from these paintings, the landscape of Alampur, Sujanpur Tira, Haripur-Guler and Nadaun provides a clue to the origin to some of these paintings. The types of buildings as well as riverside scenes shown in the famous Baramasa set of paintings with the Raja of Lambagraon (Randhawa, Kangra Valley Painting, Delhi 1955, pp.3-5) are strongly reminiscent of the landscape of Sujanpur Tira which was the capital of Sansar Chand. The rugged rocks flanking the Ban Ganga at Haripur-Guler are seen in a number of Guler paintings, while the ghat on the river with the long flight of steps shown in some paintings reminds us of Nadaun.

Kangra painting was usually regarded as anonymous. Though most of the paintings are unsigned there are some paintings which bear attributions to certain artists. There are a number of paintings which bear the name of Gur Sahai, [3] a well-known artist of Haripur-Guler.

In the light of these discoveries, it is desirable to reassess the material which has already been published in books on Kangra paintings. In this note I will deal with paintings described in OC Gangoly’s Masterpieces of Rajput Painting, Calcutta 1926.

Padumavati and Hiramani (author’s collection)

Gangoly has ascribed this painting to the Jaipur school, but there is no doubt that it is a Pahari miniature and appears to be a late Kangra painting of the early 19th century. It bears strong affinities to some of the works done at Sujanpur Tira. [4]

Vishnu riding on a Garuda (Indian Museum, Calcutta)

This has again been wrongly ascribed by Gangoly to the Jaipur school. It is a Pahari miniature. The style of the wind-blown flowering shrubs and the birds suggest a Garhwal origin like that of a ‘Gai Charan Lila’ and ‘Kaliya Damana’.

Agatapatika (Indian Museum, Calcutta)

Gangoly tentatively ascribed this painting to the Rajput School of painting but this again, without doubt, is a Pahari painting. The turbans and costumes indicate affinities with paintings from Guler done during the reign of Bhup Singh (1790-1826).

Krishna and the Cows, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

This has been ascribed by Gangoly to the Jammu school. This painting resembles a number of paintings discovered from Kulu whihch are now in the collection of Raja Raghbir Singh of Shangri, a descendant of Raja Pritam Singh of Kulu (1767-1806) who was a well-known patron of art. The type of face, slightly stupid looking, is very characteristic of the Kulu school of painting. A large number of such paintings were purchased from the collection of Justice AN Sen by the present writer for the Chandigarh Art Gallery.

Siege of Lanka (Ajit Ghosh Collection, Calcutta)

These have been ascribed by Gangoly to the school of Jammu. The paintings are of large size, 37” x 24”, and closely resemble in style paintings from Guler described by Archer in his Indian Painting in the Punjab Hills. I learnt from the Bharani family at Amritsar that these paintings were procured from Haripur-Guler [5] Archer has also identified these paintings as belonging to the Guler school of Kangra art.

Kali (author’s collection)

This painting has been ascribed by Gangoly to the school of Jammu. The curved horizon, the shape of the hills, the headdress of Durga and shape of the lion on which she is riding, are features which suggest that it belongs to the Guler school. In fact, the present author purchased a number of paintings in which Durga is painted in this style as hailing from Guler. Archer has also described some of the paintings painted in this style from Capt. Sundar Singh of Haripur-Guler. Archer has also described some of the paintings painted in this style as hailing from Guler.

Flower Gathering (Central Museum, Lahore)

This painting has been ascribed by Gangoly to the school of Basohli. Some paintings of a Gita Govinda series discovered from Basohli are said to have been painted during the reign of Raja Dhiraj Pal (1693 AD) [6]. During this travels the present writer found that paintings in the so-called Basohli style were also painted at Nurpur, Haripur-Guler, Sujanpur Tira, Mandi, Nalagarh and Bilaspur as well as at Kulu. The Kangra school of painting is said to have evolved from the fusion of Mughal and Basohli styles. This again one of the clichés which have been perpetuated by some writers by the use of flowery language. The Kangra school of painting in fact developed by from the adoption of Hindu themes from the Puranas and the epics by the artists who were conversant with the Mughal technique of paintings. The Mughal style coupled with the beauty of Hindu themes plus the beautiful landscape of Kangra valley ultimately produced that style of painting known as Kangra. The Basohli style of Rajput painting also continued to flourish side by side as a parallel development, and achieved refinement in its own sphere. The style of ‘Flower Gathering’ resembles that of some of the paintings from Nurpur seen in the collection of Mian Kartar Singh of the Wazir family which have been described by Archer in Marg, Vol.8, No.3.

Portrait of Raja Prakas Chand (Central Museum, Lahore)

This painting has been ascribed by Gangoly to the school of Chamba. There are a number of paintings of Raja Prakas Chand and his queens from Haripur-Guler. Unless there are special reasons tothecontrary such as the inscription, there seems to be no special reason why this painting should be ascribed to the school of Chamba.

Sita-Vihara (Tagore Collection, Calcutta)

This has been described by Gangoly as belonging to the school of Chamba. The headdress of the prince closely resembles that of Raja Bhup Singh of Haripur-Guler. There are a number of erotic paintings painted by Gur Sahai in which the facial formulae for women very much resemble those in Sita-Vihara. The columnar cypresses alternating with round mango trees is also another feature of Guler painting. It seems likely that this painting belongs to the Guler school. In fact a number of paintings which are available in Chamba were painted in the Kangra valley. The present author recently purchased a collection of paintings from Mian Nihal Singh of Chamba, and he is also of the same view.

These are very characteristic Kangra paintings from Sujanpur Tira. They have been wrongly described by Gangoly as belonging to the school of Chamba.

Navodha (Tagore Collection, Calcutta)

It closely resembles some of the paintings from Guler. The structure of the minaret and the faces of the ladies resemble those painted by Gur Sahai, circa 1820.

Utkanthita Nayika (Late PC Manuk Collection, Patna)

This has been ascribed by Gangoly to the school of Kangra, and has been identified by Archer as a Garhwal painting.

Sohini and Mohinwal (Late PC Manuk Collection, Patna)

This painting very likely belongs to the Guler school. The landscape seen in this painting is very characteristic and suggests the Ban Ganga at Harpur-Guler. Its likely date seems to be circa 1860. It may also be mentioned that the name of the lover is Mahiwal and not Mohinwal.

Siva and Parvati (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

Possibly belongs to the Garhwal school.

The birth of Krishna (Late PC Manuk Collection, Patna)

The painting resembles a number of paintings from Haripur-Guler. The musicians who are beating drums and blowing trumpets closely resemble those shown in the famous painting of the ‘Raja Govardhan Chand listening to musicians’. This painting possibly circa 1750, must have been painted by one of the Mughal artists who had adopted the new style. The faces of some of the men resemble those of Mughal nobles.

Crying for the moon (author’s collection)

This painting belongs to the Guler School and has features similar to ‘Toilette of Radha.’ It is possibly the work of Gur Sahai. It appears to have been painted during the reign of Raja Bhup Singh (1790-1826).

Toilette of Radha (Indian Museum, Calcutta)

This has been identified by Archer as a Guler painting. It seems to be the work of the famous artist Gur Sahai, who was very fond of painting plantains in the background of his paintings. The facial formulae of the ladies are characteristically that of Gur Sahai.

Svadhinapatika (Chandigarh Art Gallery, formerly Central Museum, Lahore)

It is similar to a painting purchased from Mian Sundar Singh and belongs to the Guler School.

Bazbahadur and Rupamati (author’s collection)

This painting has been described by Gangoly as a Mughal painting. A similar painting in the same style has been seen by the present writer in the collection of the Raja of Lambagraon. In this painting many more birds are seen in the trees as well as on the island on the river. This also appears to be a Kangra painting by an artist who may have originally painted in the Mughal style.

Notes

[1] The Raja of Guler’s fine collection is referred to in J.C French, Himalayan Art, London 1931, pp.52-53

[2] The Raja of Lambagraon’s collection has been referred to by J.C French, Himalayan Art, pp. 67-70

[3] Ram Singh’s collection has been referred to by French in his above mentioned book at p.69, para. 2

[4] It maybe noted that there were two artists named Gur Sahai. The well-known artist Nainsukh had a son Gauha = Gur Sahai. The artist referred to by Randhawa also named Gur Sahai was a grandson of Nainsukh and not as fine a painter as his uncle, Gauha – Editors.

[5] This miniature is a genre painting of a popular theme, namely a girl and her parrot which has escaped from its cage. It has nothing to do with the Padumavati romance. –– Editors

[6] JC French pointed out the Guler origin in his Himalayan Art, Frontispiece (in colour). They have long been recognised by critics as belonging to Guler. They were once the property of Raja Ragunath of Guler (1884-1920) as stated by Ajit Ghose as far back as 1929 in Roopa Lekha, No 2, April 1929, ‘The Schools of Rajput Painting.’ In fact Ajit Ghose’s example, reproduced by French, as also those reproduced by Gangoly are from the same series as the Boston examples. –– Editors.
Published in Lalit Kala, 1956-57
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