It is truly remarkable that this masterful Departure for the Hunt in the Forecourt of a Palace of Jodhpore was executed by Edwin Lord Weeks not in the heyday of his Indian travels in the 1880s and early 1890s, but rather as late as about 1900, done in his Paris studio, rooted in photographs and sketches at hand and his own narrative notes and memoirs. One could scarcely guess that the astonishing prowess with which this remarkably beautiful, skillfully rendered painting coalesced in the artist's mature mind by these means.
A mere ten years ago, it was generally held that Weeks had essentially finished with India by the concurrent events of the publication of his major book, From the Black Sea through Persia and India (New York: Harper Brothers, 1895), a compendium of his three expeditions from the 1870s to the 1890s, and the display of fifteen years' worth of his Indian paintings at the 1895 The Empire of India Exhibition in London. It is therefore quite a surprise that an Indian painting of this accomplishment and magnitude would appear on the scene so far distant from what seemed to be the culmination and conclusion of his Indian work.
But such is certainly the case with the present painting, in which a striking palace front and massive stone archway gate serve as the backdrop for figures assembling for a royal hunt. The most striking of these figures are the standing falconer, draped in a brilliant crimson shawl, holding a white stick surmounted a gloved hand on which is perched a hooded falcon, and the mounted Rajah dressed in opulent royal silks set off with strings of pearls and gems, his rakish turban emblematic of the region. Thematically, departures for royal hunts were a recurring, yet rare subject among Weeks' Indian paintings, offering the artist the opportunity to explore the opulent architecture and trappings of royal life in India, together with the exotic creatures of the hunt (fig. 1).
The painting was finished so soon before Weeks' death that there was apparently no opportunity for him to exhibit it, as it so clearly deserved. Its greatest notice came only posthumously as one of three large gravure images of the artist's painting promoting the three-day estate sale in a two-page spread in The New York Times, 12 March 1905, just a few days before the sale was held in New York (fig. 2). In that article, Charles De Kay, The Times' noted literary and art critic, wrote of the present painting, 'Another illustration shows the modern use of the cheetah leopard for hunting in India and the fact that, there at least, falconry is not extinct. The splendid red of the shawl on the native who stands in the conversation contrasts well with the glossy coat of the black horse ridden by the Rajah.'
The building and location depicted in the present painting is almost certainly a royal palace of Jodhpore, one of the striking fortified and palatial desert cities Weeks visited in Rajasthan, in northwest India. This painting relates directly to another of the artist's works entitled Young Indian Noble on Horseback, whose backdrop is identical, down to the shadows on the corbels above the gateway arch (fig. 3). The present painting also shares many architectural characteristics with Les éléphants du Rajah de Jodhpore (figs. 4, 5), with the extremely mannered 'eyebrow' and 'serpentine' forms arching widely over the projecting groups of vertical stone 'lattice' windows, with exaggerated narrow vertical proportions, all of which are modeled of sandy pink stone with fanciful decorative motifs at the upper level of the building facade. Below these overhanging window groupings are rows of rugged stone 'dentils' receding into a single string course against the pinkish undertones of the sandstone walls, set off against the contrasting buff tones with which the sandstone is painted like a whitewash. The doorway is only scarcely different than that depicted in Les éléphants du Rajah de Jodhpore; the great pendentive sweep of the projecting window hood plunging deeply to the right and the projecting bay are otherwise identical to the characteristic royal architecture of Jodhpore. The elaborate palatial vocabulary is simplified somewhat as the great wall turns the corner. On the massive side wall sits a projecting hexagonal, open-sided balcony, almost Moghul in character. Finally, the palace wall makes a 90-degree turn to form an imposing archway or symbolic gateway above which are five ornate stone brackets, helping to endow the entire architectural set piece with an almost medieval, north European flavor.
Although Weeks visited Jodhpore only once, on his 1887 expedition to India, the present painting may be dated to at least a decade later. This reflects Weeks' working method of executing in situ architectural settings and figural studies, and only later merging these elements into finished compositions in his studio back in Paris. Sometimes he added the figures directly to the original architectural in situ study, while in other instances the in situ study is simply used as a reference, the latter of which is the case with the present painting.
Based on the cheetah and keeper added to this work (fig. 6), the loose, scumbled brushwork in the sky, and the fact that it remained unexhibited and unsold prior to the artist's death in 1903, it is possible to suggest a dating for the painting of circa 1900. The painting was offered on the final evening of the artist's estate sale, together with many of the best works on offer, and it achieved one of the highest prices among the works of its size, rivaling some painting of much greater size.
Departure for the Hunt in the Forecourt of a Palace of Jodhpore is truly a 'star' painting that exemplifies Weeks' very best Indian work , and demonstrates that his powers were at their height when he executed this exquisite painting in Paris not long before his sudden death at the prematurely young age of 54. It also clearly demonstrates that his Indian work was the true love of his artistic life.
We would like to thank Dr. Ellen K. Morris for confirming the authenticity of this work and for researching and preparing this catalogue entry. This work will be included in her forthcoming Weeks catalogue raisonné.
(fig. 1) Edwin Lord Weeks, The Rajah Starting on a Hunt, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, no. 15.30.68. The architectural background is the Palace of the Seths, Ajmere, India.
(fig. 2) Detail Enlargement of New York Times article, 1905.
(fig. 3) Edwin Lord Weeks, Young Indian Noble on Horseback.
(fig. 4) Edwin Lord Weeks, Les elephants de Rajah de Jodhpore.
(fig. 5) Edwin Lord Weeks, Palace Windows, Jodhpore, 'From the Black Sea through Persia and India,' p. 204.
(fig. 6) Edwin Lord Weeks, Cheetah and Keeper, Illustration 'From the Black Sea through Persia and India,' p. 241. This illustration was taken from the figure study that was used for central figures in the present painting. Captive cheetahs and their handles figure prominently into many of Weeks' paintings depicting preparations for royal hunts.