Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Beautiful, Magical World of Rajput Art

William Dalrymple in The New York Review of Books:

‘Krishna and the Gopis on the Bank of the Yamuna River’; miniature painting from the ‘Tehri Garwhal’ Gita Govinda, circa 1775–1780.
Kronos Collections/Metropolitan Museum of Art

Writing in the early years of the twentieth century, not long before the Partition of India and Pakistan, at a time when Hindu and Muslim Indians were beginning to think of themselves as separate peoples, Coomaraswamy exaggerated the differences between Rajput and Mughal painting, choosing to ignore the many commonalities; but he did so in passages of beautiful and deeply seductive prose. Rajput painting had a unique ethos, he wrote in Rajput Painting: Being an Account of the Hindu Paintings of Rajasthan and the Panjab Himalayas, which was published in 1916:

Rajput art creates a magic world where all men are heroic, and women are all beautiful and passionate and shy, beasts both wild and tame are the friends of man, and trees and flowers are conscious of the footsteps of the Bridegroom as he passes by. This magic world is not unreal or fanciful, but a world of imagination and eternity, visible to all who do not refuse to see with the transfiguring eyes of love.
As late as the 1950s, masterpieces that would now sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars could be bought for a few rupees from the impoverished descendants of Rajput princes or their dynastic court painters. This was the period when William Archer succeeded in assembling thousands of pages of Rajput art for the Victoria and Albert Museum in London; while private collectors such as Jagdish Mittal were able to form extraordinary collections on remarkably low budgets. This golden age for collectors continued through the 1960s and early 1970s, as Indira Gandhi’s fiercely socialist policies stripped away the assets of princely families, leading many to sell their entire miniature collections, flooding the market and reducing prices even further.