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AN ILLUSTRATION FROM THE 'TEHRI GARHWAL' GITA GOVINDA SERIES: RADHA VENTS HER FRUSTRATIONS
AN ILLUSTRATION FROM THE 'TEHRI GARHWAL' GITA GOVINDA SERIES: RADHA VENTS HER FRUSTRATIONS
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AN ILLUSTRATION FROM THE 'TEHRI GARHWAL' GITA GOVINDA SERIES: RADHA VENTS HER FRUSTRATIONS

INDIA, PAHARI HILLS, KANGRA, MASTER OF THE FIRST GENERATION AFTER MANAKU AND NAINSUKH, CIRCA 1775-1780

Details
AN ILLUSTRATION FROM THE 'TEHRI GARHWAL' GITA GOVINDA SERIES: RADHA VENTS HER FRUSTRATIONS
INDIA, PAHARI HILLS, KANGRA, MASTER OF THE FIRST GENERATION AFTER MANAKU AND NAINSUKH, CIRCA 1775-1780
Image 6 1/8 x 10 ¼ in. (15.6 x 26 cm.)
Provenance
Françoise and Claude Bourelier Collection, Paris.
Artcurial, Paris, 4 November 2014, lot 228.

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Lot Essay

The present folio represents an emotional scene from the Gita Govinda, or “Song of the Herdsman,” a lyrical poem by the twelfth-century East Indian poet Jayadeva. Filled with luminous descriptions of the divine, and at times fraught love between Krishna and Radha, the Gita Govinda had a tremendous impact on Vaishnav doctrine throughout North and South India, seminal in the development of the bhakti movement of Hinduism, which advocated direct and sincere devotion to a deity, rather than referring to a Brahmin as an intercessor. The lyrical epic became especially popular in North India, where it became a beloved subject in Rajput and Pahari painting workshops. Divided into 12 sargos, or cantos, of mixed length, the narrative is filled with visual metaphors and hyperbole likening earthly seduction and divine union.
For such enduring imagery, the Gita Govinda, was favored among painters and patrons in the Pahari Hills. Three notable Gita Govinda series from the region have resonated with scholars and collectors to this day. The first, circa 1730, is a boldly illustrated 150-folio set by the Guler Master Manaku (c. 1700-1760) in the Basohli style, admired for its evocative colors, rich ornamentation, and expert blending of the Basolhi and Guler schools of painting. The second, from which this folio derives, was painted by a master of the generation of sons of Manaku and his brother Nainsukh (1710-1778). The so-called 'Tehri Garhwal' series circa 1775, is an over 140-page series celebrated for its rich and complex delineations of emotions and expert execution. This large set was greatly influential in the development of the third series completed in 1820, the so-called ‘Lambagraon’ series attributed to the master Purkhu (active c. 1780-c.1820), circa 1820.
The ‘Tehri Garhwal’ series, variously referred to as the ‘First Kangra Gita Govinda’ or the ‘Second Gita Govinda,’ is considered by most scholars to be the finest Gita Govinda series. M.S. Randhawa remarks, “one of the noblest creations of the Kangra artists, this painting is a poem in form and colour, suffused with the aroma of love, which is so characteristic of the song of Jayadeva. Undoubtedly, it is one of the most beautiful of the Gita Govinda series” (M.S. Randhawa, Kangra Paintings of the Gita Govinda, New Delhi, 1963, p.70; the verso of the present painting bears the initials “MSR,” a trademark Randhawa used to mark paintings he found important).
Since the series’ rediscovery in the Tehri Garhwal Darbar by N.C. Mehta around 1926, a large consensus has formed on the dating and authorship of the great series. The accompanying colophon is nearly an exact copy of that of the ‘First Gita Govinda series’ of Basohli, bearing an inscription which attributes the work to Manaku, 1730, likely as an homage to the master of the previous generation. A collection of sketches by Nainsukh between 1762 and 1778, now at the National Museum, New Delhi, establish that Nainsukh had played a role in designing the series, although it is demonstrably the work of a son, or sons, of Manaku and Nainsukh who undertook the actual execution of the painting. The completion of the work in 1780 would also be a reasonable date had it been prepared for the 1781 wedding of Maharaja Sansar Chand (r. 1775-1823), a romantically inclined Krishna devotee, who employed the sons of Manaku and Nainsukh at his court in Kangra. In 1829, Sansar Chand's two daughters married Raja Sudarshan Shah of Tehri Garhwal, which is how the series is presumed to have come into the Tehri Garhwal ancestral collection.
In the present painting, Radha expounds her frustrations to her sakhi, or close confidant. She is aware that her beloved Krishna has gone off with other women and is beginning to lose faith in their divine love. Wearing a diaphanous dress and intricately executed gold, emerald, and pearl jewelry, her elegantly shaded face pronounces both indignation and dejection. The scene evokes viraha dukha, the pain of separation, evident in the deeply hurt and sorrowful Radha as she calls on her confidante to confront Krishna. The inscription on the verso of the painting relate the following passage:
These spring time days are hard to get through. The ears are in a feverish state, for they are continuously and cruelly struck by the joyful melodies that the koel trills forth from the blossoming branches of the mango, which are shaken by the bees attracted by their honey and fragrance. Now the hearts of lonely travelers, who are away from their mates, are pierced with anguish, and derive satisfaction from a dreamy vision of embrace with their sweethearts.
Translation by Barbara Stoler Miller
Set upon a solemn landscape, the artists demonstrate a deep understanding of the metaphorical value of nature described by Jayadeva. With verses expounding on the flowers of the fragrant umbrella tree, the seascape at Puri, and the vakula and tamala trees, Jayadeva cast the sacred landscape of Braj after the Orissan countryside with which he was so familiar. The painters, on the other hand, have clearly placed the characters within the Kangra Valley, much of the work set on the meandering banks of the Beas River, symbolizing the Yamuna. Throughout the series, the landscape is incredibly descriptive, to the point where nature becomes a character in and of itself. In the present scene, the sorrowful Radha vents to her sakhi in a sparsely forested field. Dark clouds form over the distant, empty hills, her lover Krishna nowhere in sight. Compare the work to a painting from the Edwin Binney 3rd collection at the San Diego Museum of Art (acc. no. 1990.1270), where Krishna anxiously awaits Radha amongst a thicket he has prepared for their romantic tryst. The sharp, jagged course through which the artist rendered the river reflects Krishna’s growing agitation and uncertainty in Radha’s faith. Finally, when Radha joins Krishna, the couple finds themselves encased in the most lush vegetation seen throughout the series, with thick forestry, blossoming floral sprays and songbirds perched upon outstretched tree branches, as seen in a painting on loan to the Museum Rietberg from the collection of Eberhard and Barbara Fischer.
Additional pages from this series are held in esteemed private and public collections throughout the world, including several paintings in the Kronos Collection on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum Rietberg, Zurich, the Eberhard and Barbara Fischer collection, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (acc. no. 85.30), the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (acc. no. M.84.222.1), the Edwin Binney 3rd Collection at the San Diego Museum of Art (acc. no. 1990.1270), the Philadelphia Museum of Art (acc. no. 2004-149-75) and Musée Guimet. A cropped half-page from this series depicting Radha and Krishna in union sold at Christie’s New York, 17 September 2013, lot 366 for $207,750. More recently, a page from the ‘Lambagraon’ Gita Govinda series sold at Christie’s New York, 17 March 2021, lot 436 for $575,000.

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