A compilation of moralistic tales, the "Gulistan" or "Rose Garden" is the best-known work of the great thirteenth-century Persian poet Sa‘di. In this work, the poet illustrates lessons of life through stories that sometimes involve the author himself as participant. The Art Museum’s painting by Manohar originally belonged to an episode in an illustrated edition of the "Gulistan" commissioned by the Mughal emperor and art patron Akbar.
The episode in Sa‘di’s "Gulistan" (Tale 24, Chapter 3) reads as follows: “The fisherman caught a giant fish in his net, but the fish escaped. This had never happened before, and the fisherman was reproached by his fellow fishermen for losing his catch. He replied, ‘Alas, my brethren! What could be done, seeing it was not my lucky day, and the fish had yet a day remaining? A fisherman without luck catcheth not fish in the Tigris, neither will the fish without fate expire on the dry ground.’
In this painting, Manohar has elected to show the moment of highest drama, the giant fish caught in the net just before it escapes. While the fisherman and a companion struggle to hold the catch, various hunters, fishermen, and excited spectators rush to the scene. In the fashion of northern European landscapes of that time, a town nestles in the distant hills. A distinguished painter in the Mughal court of Akbar, Manohar was a highly skilled portraitist and was fond of animals, especially foxes and hounds; both qualities are evident in this painting.