Indian Miniature Paintings: The Company School and Popular Prints

Academy of Fine Arts and Literature

The tradition of Indian Miniature Painting
The tradition of Indian miniature painting can be traced from the 9th-10th century in the Buddhist Pala period palm leaf manuscript of eastern India and in the western India in the Jaina palm leaf manuscript. With the introduction of paper in 12th century in India, illustrations on paper manuscript of larger format than the narrow palm leaf, began to come into vogue. But apart from such manuscripts still there were no schools of Miniature Paintings in India. There came into existence in the Lodi period (1451-1526 AD) a Sultanate bourgeois school of manuscript. The Sultanate illustrated manuscript represented the court style. The full flowering of miniature painting began when India came into direct contact with the civilization of Islam. With Mughal Empire, (1526-1757 AD) the studios were established at the Imperial court and Indian painting began a new phase in its evolution. It was from there that illustrated manuscripts, album miniatures, portraits, celebratory or genre scenes and various other paintings made their way allover India. Indian miniature painting was subjected to a strong initial Persian influence, but it was short lived since the Indian artists soon recovered their own independence and originality. 
The new patrons of paintings with the decline of the Mughal Empire were the provincial governors of Rajasthan and Pahari kingdom (c. 1700-1900 AD). Unlike Mughal artists, Rajput artists were anonymous and did not enjoy the high status of their Mughal counterparts. Thus while the stylistic evolution of the Mughal School is traced by the patronage of the respective emperors, geographical categories are used to explain the evolution of styles of Rajput painting. Miniatures were profoundly influenced by Indian literature and were executed as illustrations to texts or as individual paintings. They were small-scale, highly detailed pictorial compositions, often providing a true record of the social and cultural life of the time. As the Renaissance masters turned to the Bible, Indian painters turned to our epics, and saw as their task bringing these stories into visual reality for those who may not be able to read. They flourished only under generous and sensitive patrons.

Company School of painting
Company school painting is broadly the nomenclature of Indian paintings rendered by indigenous artists under the patronage of the officials of the East India Company. This class of painting pursued idiom of Western art and sought for themes which its new connoisseurs liked. Essentials of Western art, the technique of colour shading, texture and visual accuracy, no matter even if it was achieved by simply colouring a photograph for giving it a portrait's look, or a portrait, even if idealised, was based on a camera photo, became the most required stylistic features of this new class of painting in India. A portrait's background was usually dull opaque monochromic lest it obstructed viewing eye from reaching its realism. Fusion of European elements in Indian art had begun in Akbar's court art itself. However, while in Akbar's art such elements were completely diluted with the indigenous and stood transformed, in Company painting they encroached its basic texture and reduced the ’indigenous’ into subordination.

This new art-form had its beginning broadly from around 1770 when with some territories passing into the hands of East India Company, India had roots of colonialism on her soil. The British traders-turned-rulers, in an effort to look cultured like Mughals and Rajput princes, or in pretence of their understanding of Indian culture, resorted to painting as testimony of good taste. They began commissioning indigenous artists to paint for them though requiring that in the painted work reflected their idiom, taste and liking. This art evolved more or less as an amalgam of the styles of East and West. They wished to be painted as dressed in Indian costumes and styles. Now many Indian princes and rich traders who saw in the British their benefactors and wished to please them also opted for this amalgam to be the style of the painting that they patronised. They commissioned their portraits in European costumes. Thus, the Company style paintings were the choice not merely of the officials of the East India Company but also of many Indians.

The female hunter in all probability a Maratha princess, carrying a spear, bow and quiver full of arrows, and falcon, is riding a grotesque horse composed of animals of all regions water, space and earth. The tradition of such blend of different species has been prevalent from early times. Gods like Ganesh, Hanuman, Hayagriva, Narasimha & and semi-divines like Naga-kanyas, Matsya-kanyas.. are some early examples of such blend. Secular forms also prevailed and are discernible in early sculptures right from the Gupta period. The use of parrots for feet and ears and of snakes, for neck's hair, is brilliant.

The tradition of such blend of different species has been prevalent from early times. Gods like Ganesh, Hanuman, Hayagriva, Narasimha & and semi-divines like Naga-kanyas, Matsya-kanyas.. are some early examples of such blend. Secular forms also prevailed and are discernible in early sculptures right from the Gupta period. The use of parrots for feet and ears and of snakes, for neck's hair, is brilliant.

The painting portrays a European, a Firangi, as artists and Indian peasantry called a European in 19th century, hunting a lion in Marshi land. His gunshot has already struck the hoary forest king who taken aback by this arrogance gets at his feet and, while with his hands he plugs his bleeding wounds, with his quiet eyes surveys the man who inflicted it. Humanization of the lion, not only in his posture but also in his placidity and composure, is painting's most strong aspect. Firangi’s long boots, flat cap, tough overcoat, breeches and chest-cover, as also his gun with a long barrel, all have been styled after costumes and armaments as were in actual use during the 19th century Europe. His beard is, however, like Mewar’s Ranas.

His gunshot has already struck the hoary forest king who taken aback by this arrogance gets at his feet and, while with his hands he plugs his bleeding wounds, with his quiet eyes surveys the man who inflicted it. Humanization of the lion, not only in his posture but also in his placidity and composure, is painting's most strong aspect.

The painting represents a hawker selling sesame-seeds coated sugar buttons revaris. His lone buyer is a tribal or Dalit low-born girl. The painting, with similar others, marks the era of the common man's emergence as its theme and thrust in Indian art, which was so for the art of kings and courts. A plain dull opaque background was essentially a European factor in Indian art.

The painting represents a hawker selling sesame-seeds coated sugar buttons revaris. His lone buyer is a tribal or Dalit low-born girl. The painting, with similar others, marks the era of the common man's emergence as its theme and thrust in Indian art, which was so for the art of kings and courts. A plain dull opaque background was essentially a European factor in Indian art.

Acrobatics and performance of fun for amusing people in streets and receiving from them applause and reward usually some coppers, was a common feature of late 19th century town life. It was one of the common modes of amusement, at least of the peasantry and urban poor and lower middle class, till the 6th-7th decade of the 20th century. The dancer has disguised himself like a huge bird by putting on him a cover made of multiple and multi-coloured feathers.

The dancer has disguised himself like a huge bird by putting on him a cover made of multiple and multi-coloured feathers.

The lady, a poor textile worker, is engaged in winding yarn, from the two spindles she is holding in her hands, on stands usually bamboo pieces or wooden poles, each laid at a little distance from the other, for making skeins, on essential stage in loom weaving. Her ordinary ornaments and costume apart, her sickly figure with prominently reflecting bones and eyes buried deep into their sockets reveal her poverty.

The lady, a poor textile worker, is engaged in winding yarn, her sickly figure with prominently reflecting bones and eyes buried deep into their sockets reveal her poverty.

As suggests the style of her costume the portrayed figure might be one of the Begums of Lucknow or Murshidabad. The wooden chair, she is seated on, is a European element which emerged in Indian life and art during the Company period, broadly after c. 1860-70 AD. Realistic in nature, the portrait is either the outcome of an actual sitting or is based on a camera photograph.

The wooden chair, she is seated on, is a European element which emerged in Indian life and art during the Company period, broadly after c. 1860-70 AD.

Popular Prints
Popular art caters to the need of the masses as it easily appeals to their sensibilities and requirements providing a valuable evidence of current attitudes and life style. It may be ephemeral compared to ‘high art’ but communicates its message simply even to the uneducated. Since 1947 a distinguished development in Sikh art was marked by voluminous production of the genuinely mass-produced bazaar prints, which developed rapidly. Here we have selected few prints from Sikh history, which deals in popular perceptions of the historical past. Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh dominate the popular art of the Sikhs, pairing of spiritual and activist ideals, maintaining the same dual emphasis on peace, meditation (symbolized by Baba Nanak) and martial fervor (represented in popular images of Guru Gobind Singh).

Few artists like Sobha Singh specialized in imaginative portraits of the Gurus, expressing the distinctively spiritual qualities, which they associated with their subjects. They utilized a refined version of the traditional iconography to project an interpretation of the psyche and distinctive contribution of the Gurus, portrayed in Sikh paintings. Changes are seen in Guru Nanak's earlier representation in the Janam Sakhi miniatures as a yogi, to the popular print version of a turban, long with white beard and mostly without Bala and Mardana. Another dilemma was the formless nature of ‘Nirankar’, but despite suspicion in some schools of thought, popular art continued to flourish. Other important genre was events in Sikh history expressing themes and ideals, which command importance in the Sikh tradition. Few portraits of Guru Nanak expressing spiritual wisdom, the subdued ecstasy of deep meditation, the glow of an enlightenment transcending this earthly existence are in this collection. Also part of this collection are portraits of Guru Gobind Singh, the mighty leader of action decked in royal array and armed with weapons which he wields in defense of righteousness. A unique representation of the anointment of Guru Granth Sahib needs to be mentioned as very few versions of the same are available, and also an embroidered cloth with Nanak, Bala and Mardana.

This is a group picture of Rajas of various Hindu Estates before the partition of India and Pakistan. They all are wearing their respective regalia. On the lower border the inscription reads: Moti Bazar, Mumbai. Oleograph printed in the press of Raja Ravi Verma.

The inscription reads: Moti Bazar, Mumbai. Oleograph printed in the press of Raja Ravi Verma.

Published Guru Teg Bahadur Gurpurab Committee, Amritsar

Published Guru Teg Bahadur Gurpurab Committee, Amritsar

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