A SCENE FROM THE MAHABHARATA: THE KAURAVAS CONFER
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Property from a Distinguished West Coast Collection.
A SCENE FROM THE MAHABHARATA: THE KAURAVAS CONFER

INDIA, PUNJAB HILLS, KANGRA, ATTRIBUTED TO PURKHU, CIRCA 1820

Details
A SCENE FROM THE MAHABHARATA: THE KAURAVAS CONFER
INDIA, PUNJAB HILLS, KANGRA, ATTRIBUTED TO PURKHU, CIRCA 1820
image 11 ¾ x 16 5/8 in. (29.8 x 42.2 cm.)
folio 12 1/8 x 17 in. (30.8 x 43.2 cm.)
Provenance
Sotheby's New York, 21 March 2012, lot 214.

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Hannah Perry
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Lot Essay

Owing to the patronage of Maharaja Sansar Chand (r. 1775-1823) and the artistic direction of Purkhu (active c. 1780-c.1820), Kangra is remembered as a great center of Pahari miniature painting. A skilled portrait artist, Purkhu is lauded for his distinguished and individualized portraits within his works, often noted for veering towards journalistic goals over idealized or fantastical qualities. His works documenting the public and private life of Sansar Chand are thus unsurprisingly rigorous in their attention to detail, and one can assume, loyalty to accuracy. Notwithstanding, Purkhu’s works on religious themes have proved his capability for innovation and passion, creating large series on the Harivamsa, Shiva Purana, Ramayana, Kedara Kalpa, Gita Govinda, and the present Mahabharata series.
This illustration from the Mahabharata depicts a number of meetings amongst the Kauravas from within the Hastinapura palace. In the upper left scene, blind king Dhritarashtra confers with the elders Vidura, Drona, and Bhishma who advocate for a peaceful resolution for the war against the Pandava cousins. In the upper right, the king shares the elder's consul to the younger family members, Karna, Duryodhana and Duhshasana, who would rather see the families at war. In the lower left corner, the young generals discuss plans to move forward with battle.
In many narrative paintings attributed to Purkhu and his workshop, architecture dominates with a profusion of courtyards, balconies and windows. With a lack of spatial depth observed in these works, the figures closest to the lower end of the painting are usually smaller in what appears to be reversed perspective. The most important figures are generally placed in the center and rendered the largest, as illustrated in the present painting. The artists could merely be creating a pictorial space appropriate to their needs.
Although there are no known works signed by Purkhu, a number of extensive large-sized series have been associated with him and his family. A Kangra artist at the court of Maharaja Sansar Chand (c.1765-1823), Purkhu was active circa 1780-1820 and the master of a large workshop. Goswamy and Fischer mention a list of works attributed to the family workshop of Purkhu (M.C. Beach, E. Fischer, B.N. Goswamy, Masters of Indian Painting, 1650-1900, Volume II, Zurich, 2011, pp. 720-721). A painting from this Mahabharata series sold at Christie's New York, 22 September 2021, lot 461, for $112,500.

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