Following the Gupta Dynasty's decline, artists trained in the Gupta ateliers dispersed in search of new patronage, migrating East from places such as Sarnath to Bihar. This important black stone stele evinces Gupta reverberations in the figure's luscious volume emphasized by the simply carved folds, delicate grace, and sensitive modeling, put into a new and distinct idiom. The intricate gathering at the lower sides of the sanghati, the position of the hands with the lowered hand backed by a cylindrical support carved with lotus petals, and the Buddha's stance with one knee ever so slightly bent as to give the gentle suggestion of movement are innovative Pala features. The use of the local black chloritic stone is a hallmark of Pala sculpture.
At the bottom left of this sculpture and continuing across the lotus petals is an inscription which has been read as the following:
ye dharma hetu prabhava hetun,
tesam tathagato hyavadat,
tesam ca yo nirodha,
evam vadi mahashramana
This has been translated as:
All phenomena arise from causes;
Those causes have been taught by the Tathagata (Buddha),
And their cessation too has been proclaimed by the Great Shramana
This inscription is often found on Pala images of the Buddha with stupas, and is believed to be the words that Gautama uttered to persuade his two closest disciples, Sariputra and Maudgalyayana, to follow him. For an example of the Buddha flanked by stupas, see S. Huntington, The Pala Sena Schools of Sculpture, 1984, fig. 109. For a similar treatment of the hands, see S. Kramrisch, Indian Sculpture, 1960, pl. 19. A similar though less complete example from the Doris Wiener Collection was sold at Christie's New York, 20 March 2012, lot 77.
George P. Bickford (28 November 1901-14 October 1991) was a luminary collector of Indian and Southeast Asian art. Spanning Mughal and Rajput court paintings, early Bengali modern painting, and sculpture, Mr. Bickford had a discerning eye and passionate engagement with the subjects. Mr. Bickford's passion for collecting was developed during his many trips to India. After graduating from Harvard in 1922, he traveled to Asia to teach in China, and the following year he toured India on his way back to the States.
During the Second World War, he was posted to New Delhi in 1944 as part of the Judge Advocate General's Department. It was during this period that his interest in Indian art, and his love for India itself, was rekindled into a lifelong passion. Mr. Bickford met officers from the Archaeological Survey of India, visited local museums, galleries, and dealers, and became immersed in study of Indian art.
After completing his military service, Mr. Bickford continued to build his collection. The George P. Bickford collection was exhibited at eight major museums and university museums in 1975-76, including the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard, and the accompanying publication included an introduction by W. G. Archer, renowned scholar of Indian paintings and Keeper Emeritus of the Indian Section at the Victoria and Albert Museum.