“Deep in the Thar desert, behind endless waves of sand dunes, lies Bikaner, one of the most interesting centres of later Indian Art”; thus Hermann Goetz begins his seminal description of the city and its art.
Bikaner fort, exterior
His wonderfully romantic verbal description of the site in the 1940s acknowledges that Bikaner “has lost something of its forbidding situation” and today the city is certainly far more developed than it was when he visited, but it is still without an airport and therefore feels much more remote and unspoiled than many of the other Rajasthani capitals.
Krishna taking Rukmani. India, Bikaner, circa 1590–1610. Estimate: INR 250,000–350,000
The India Sale on 15 December features a group of miniature paintings consigned directly from the royal family of Bikaner. The paintings in this selection exemplify a number of characteristic traits of the school. Lots 101 and 102 are very clearly in the Mughal idiom, the products of a workshop established during the reign of Raja Rai Singh (r.1571-1611), the first of his line to be a prominent general in the Mughal army, and at the same time a documented collector of paintings and artists.
Two courtly ladies. By Bihari, India, Bikaner, in Golconda style, circa 1700. Estimate: INR 500,000–700,000
A second major influence on the art of Bikaner was the paintings from the Deccan in central south India, notably those from the sultanate of Bijapur. The royal family of Bikaner were involved in several military campaigns in the Deccan during the 17th century. Maharaja Anup Singh, renowned for his patronage of the arts, even took at least one of his court artists, Ruknuddin, with him to the Deccan. Lot 108 shows the direct influence of Deccani artists, in this case from Golconda, both in the faces, which closely resemble those of the painter Rahim Deccani, and in the niches filled with vases which are found on a depiction of the Darbar of Sultan `Ali `Adil Shah II. Such was the popularity of these niches that the entire 18th century interior of the Phool Mahal in the Fort Palace at Bikaner was decorated in this manner.
Phool Mahal and Chandra Mahal, 17th century, ambulatory off third court, ceiling, beams and upper friezes
This same interior shows a fascination not just with Deccani fashion, but also with European. In the upper centre of each wall in the Phool Mahal is a moulded and painted European figure. The wooden ceiling beams in the same building are painted with European angels and other figures among clouds, frequently offering wine. These characterisations of decadent and distorted Europeans were popular in 18th century Rajasthan.
A beauty and her attendants on a terrace at dusk. By Bhavani Shankar, India, Bikaner, dated VS 1811/1754 AD. Estimate: INR 600,000–800,000
The school of miniature painting established at this powerful regional court has long been identified. The royal family built up a very substantial collection, and it was carefully inventoried by the last ruler, HH. Maharaja Dr. Karni Singh of Bikaner whose library stamp and librarian’s signature is found on the reverse of every painting, including all in this group. In addition, most have earlier inscriptions, frequently giving the names of artists and dates as well as the subject. Records at the palace also show a very long tradition of families of artists, some of whose descendants are still alive today, a continuity and level of documentation that is far more complete than in most other regional centres, demonstrating that not only miniature painting but also the familial traditions in which it was developed, are alive and well in the remarkable city of Bikaner.
We are delighted to hold our third India Sale in Mumbai on the 15th of December 2015. We are particularly excited that for the first time the sale includes classical painting and sculpture.