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A painting from a dispersed Harivamsa series
A painting from a dispersed Harivamsa series


A painting from a dispersed Harivamsa series
Attributed to Purkhu
India, Kangra, circa 1800-1820
Of large size depicting several gold and silver boats with animal figureheads filled with frolicking revelers departing the bank at right and proceeding through the night, their path lit by torches, each boat bearing at least one figure slightly larger than the rest and identified by inscription, with a palace surrounded by coupled birds and flowering trees opposite a group of tents in the background
Opaque pigments with silver and gold on paper
13 7/8 x 17 5/8 in. (35.2 x 44.8 cm.), image
15 3/8 x 19¼ in. (39.2 x 49 cm.), folio
Private Collection, London

Lot Essay

The present sale offers this and another work (lot 16) from the celebrated series by Purkhu. The principal figures in the present scene can be identified by the devanagari inscriptions above their heads. Starting at upper right in the silver boat with the golden horse-head, stands Aniruddha, the grandson of Krishna, and Usha, daughter of the demon king Banasura, who fell in love with Aniruddha after seeing his face in a dream. In the smaller golden boat to the left with the silver swan-head is Satyaki, a powerful warrior related to Krishna and who studied with Arjuna, both to whom he is devoted.
At centre right, in the golden boat with the Garuda-head, is Krishna gazing adoringly at his first wife, Rukmini, who has one hand on his shoulder and the other fondling his garland. To his other side stands Satyabhama, his third wife. They are accompanied by dancers and musicians, and as they depart one woman is being helped aboard by a couple at the stern.
At lower right is a silver boat with a golden tiger-head bearing the tall white figure of Balarama, Krishna's brother, accompanied by Revati. They are partaking of refreshments being offered to them by the dancers, and behind them an unidentified prince is seated amongst the other guests.
To the left, in the golden boat with the snake head is Arjuna, the Pandava prince and Krishna's best friend, with Subhadra, Krishna's sister who elopes with Arjuna after they obtain Krishna's permission and blessing. Above them in the silver boat with the elephant-head and leading the procession is the lilac figure of Pradyumna, son of Krishna and Rukmini, speaking with his friend Sanva. Finally, the small silver boat heading off-scene is Uddhava, Krishna's friend, devotee and messenger.
The figures in this painting are nearly identical to those identified in another work from the same series, which was sold at Christie's New York, 23 March 2010, lot 186. That work, depicting the same named figures accompanied by women frolicking in the Jamuna River, may be closely related in sequence to this painting. Many of the figures at right are still partially nude, as if they have just finished bathing and are now preparing for the evening festivities. The tents opposite the palace on the distant banks, the number of guests and their relationships to each other, and the joyous music and dancing all suggest that a wedding is about to take place. Of all the figures identified, only Pradyumna is without a female companion, and is also wearing a bridegroom's turban instead of crown. His clothing is also very different from that of his entourage, all of whom wear lighter colours while he wears rich emerald-green robes that set him apart. The lit torches, starry night sky, and opulent boats set a romantic mood as the procession bears the young prince and his family to their destination.

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