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The Ideal Image Eight Masterpieces Of Indian And Southeast Asian Art
21 March 2008
New York, Rockefeller Plaza
Nainsukh of Guler
Musicians playing a Raga for Balwant Dev Singh during the Rainy Season
India, Jasrota, circa 1745-50
The prince wearing a pink achkan secured by a maroon and gold patka and pearl jewelry, holding a huqqa pipe and gesturing to woman facing him dressed in orange and holding a tanpura, both shielded by umbrellas carried by attendants and accompanied by groups of men dressed in white jama, to the left musicians bearing various instruments and to the right his attendants, including the artist at lower left
body color on wasli with borders
10 5/8 x 14½ in. (27 x 37 cm.), image
13 x 15 3/8 in. (33 x 39 cm.), sheet
Please note the self-portrait of the artist is at the lower right, not at the lower left as described in the catalogue.
Nainsukh of Guler
Nainsukh (circa 1710-78) came from a family of painters that settled in Guler in the northern hills of India. He trained with his father, Pandit Seu, alongside his brother, Manaku. All three were highly literate compared to their peers (hence the honorific "Pandit").
Nainsukh entered the service of Raja Balwant Dev Singh of Jasrota, a little principality near Jammu, and stayed with the prince for the remainder of his patron's life. The paintings that survive from this period record everyday activities in the prince's life, including riding through the countryside, listening to musicians, enjoying huqqa, and hunting. Nainsukh renders each figure, their costumes and surroundings with exceptional sensitivity and delicacy, imbuing them with humanity. His images extend an invitation to the viewer to participate and enjoy the scenes depicted.
Sir Dorab J. Tata, before 1921
Sotheby's London, 14 December 1931, lot 476
Private Japanese Collection
This painting illustrates Nainsukh's extraordinary skill. Raja Balwant Dev Singh with Musicians in the Rainy Season depicts the prince standing to the right, holding a huqqa and facing a woman holding a tanpura and gesturing towards the king. Both wear traditional costume of the period rendered in minute detail, including the golden brocade pattern on his slippers and the delicate chevron pattern on her golden gauze-like oudhni. In a departure from convention, Nainsukh has moved the architectural setting to the right so that the singer, not the prince, is at the center of the composition. Her prominent positioning likely indicates that she was a singer held in great esteem. She is identified in a related composition inscribed with her name Ladbai; see B.N. Goswamy, Nainsukh of Guler, 1997, p. 128f., cat. no. 40. Her facial features, position of the tanpura, and extended left hand are rendered in close correspondance.
Only two other works by the hand of Nainsukh incorporating a self-portrait are known: 'Self-Portrait', circa 1730, at the Indian Museum Culcutta; and 'Balwant Singh Seeing a Painting with Nainsukh', circa 1745-50, at the Museum Rietberg Zurich, see Goswamy, cat. nos. 1 and 39.
The present painting is also of extraordinary large size and has a remarkable provenance. It is inscribed on the reverse "Raja Balwant Singh the J[?] in a rainy season," "A12," and a price is stated in English pounds. The hand and inscriptions are similar to those found on the back of Balwant Singh Seeing a Painting with Nainsukh. It further bears the aniline dye stamp of "(Sd.) D. J. Tata." According to Goswamy (p. 254-57) the stamp indicates this painting, along with several others of Balwant Singh by Nainsukh, were once in the private collection of Sir Dorab J. Tata, an ancestor of the present-day Mumbai industrialist family. In 1921, Tata offered his art collection to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Museum (formerly Prince of Wales Museum) in Mumbai, whose Trustees selected a few works, including several but not all of his Nainsukh paitings. They were offered on 14 December 1931 in a sale at Sotheby's London, which included a section of "oriental manuscripts and miniatures," in which "The Property of Sir D. J. Tata" was included as lots 470 to 480. While many of the lots have been traced to known Nainsukh paintings in present-day collections, the whereabouts of lot 476, listed as "Another of the Rajah [sic] standing under an umbrella listening to a singing girl accompanied by musicians", has now been reestablished. This description, combined with the stamps and inscriptions on the verso, unquestionably identifies the present example.
The reappearance of a work by Pandit Nainsukh incorporating a self-portrait of the artist is a major discovery for the field. It is dated to his high period, is larger than any of its comparables and is in very good condition.
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