This painting was originally part of a set of sixty-three lots consisting of illustrations to the tenth and eleventh books of the Bhagavata Purana and which sold at Sotheby's on 1st February 1960. It was originally catalogued as "Krishna sporting with the cowherds; they enter the serpent's mouth" and attributed to "Panjab Hills, circa 1790".
Each painting has an indentification inscription on the reverse in gurmukhi and nagari scripts. They form a series known as the "Fifth" or "Large" Guler-Basohli Bhagavata Purana. Characterized by its size and compositions of few figures within large expanses of space, it illustrates a transitional Basohli style that was to be eclipsed by the Mughal idiom from nearby Guler. It is now dispersed in a number of collections, including eight paintings in the Victoria and Albert Museum, one in the Philadelphia Museum of Art as well as others at that time in the Archer Collection (see W.G. Archer, Indian Paintings from the Punjab Hills, London, 1973; Visions of Courtly India, London and New York, 1976, no. 8, p. 15; and W.G. Archer and Edwin Binney 3rd, Rajput Miniatures from the Collection of Edwin Binney 3rd, Portland 1968, nos.55a and 55b, pp.74-5 for other paintings).
In both his 1973 and 1976 publications, Archer makes suggestions about the artist responsible for much of the series. The compositions of a number of paintings are clearly modelled on those of the artist Manaku in the 1735 Gita Govinda series. Archer suggests that the painter is Fattu, Manaku's eldest son and therefore also Nainsukh's nephew, who went on later to make his name at Kangra. Whether one follows different suggestions in defining Nainsukh's main patron, the artist is known to have moved around 1763 to Basohli after the death of his former patron Balwant Singh of Jammu and it is almost certain that his advent would have had a strong influence on the work of other members of his family such as Fattu. Archer speculates that Nainsukh might have had a role in directing this 'Fifth' Series in the court atelier.
B.N.Goswamy supports the attribution of most of the paintings of the tenth chapter to Fattu (B.N.Goswamy and E. Fischer, Pahari Masters, Zurich, 1992, p.314). Goswamy suggests that the series may have been started during the lifetime of Manaku but that Fattu gradually came under Nainsukh's influence. These would support the existence of two distinct styles in the series, marking an important transition in this Pahari school between Manaku's solid and clear constructions and Nainsukh's naturalistic refinements and attention to details, particularly in the treatment of faces. The present painting is certainly close to the "early" manner of Manaku.
Other paintings from the same series sold at Sotheby's New York, 30 November 1994, lot 24; Christie's New York, 20 March 2002, lot 149: Muchukanda leaves for the Himalayas; Sotheby's New York, lots 225, 226, 227 and 228, there attributed to Fattu (Kamsa summons the wrestlers Chanura, Mustika and Sala, The Kaurava elders conve n in Dhritarashtra's Court, Krishna kills the Elephant Kuvalayapid a and Akrura sets off for Hastinapura); Christie's London, 7 October 2011, lots 394 and 395 (Akrura's vision of Krishna and K rishna quelling the serpent Kaliya).