Many of Edwin Lord Weeks' paintings emanate from his oil studies and observations of the everyday life of India. In this instance, Weeks has rended a scene along the broad banks of the Sabarmati, which weaves its way through the city of Ahmedabad, one of the artist's favorite cities. In 1905, F. D. Millet provided this painting with a special catalogue note at the artist's estate sale:
'The usual early morning crowd- men, women and bullocks- are at the river to wash, drink or carry away water. The group of women with jars on their heads shows how the water is carried.'
The early morning light which pervades the painting- the hazy atmosphere and diffused colors across the river, the long shadows, and particularly in the pale quality of the sky- highlights the immediacy of the scene of men and women gathered for their daily rituals at the river's edge. Weeks' painterly realism is accentuated in the color and form of the pools of water sparkling in the foreground, executed for sheer pictorial effect and as a counterpoint to a cluster of young women carrying brass jars.
Indeed, the main visual attraction in the paniting is a group of young women leaving the banks of the river after filling their jars with water. Weeks delights in the colors of the women's saris, as well as their sparkling bracelets and lavish earrings. Characteristically, the artist renders the women with comely profiles and pretty faces, their hair glazed black and their lips brightened with rouge. These central figures are idealized subjects, painted in a manner which slightly eroticizes them; certainly, these women seem more like nautch girls, or dancers, than everyday water carriers.
It seems entirely plausible to suggest that this painting was executed in two stages. Clearly, most of the elements of this painting were executed by Weeks in situ, recording the river and its landscape, the pale blue quality of the morning light, and the activity at the river's edge. The degree of refinement of the present work, however, clearly indicated that Weeks finished the painting in his studio, possibly after his return to Paris. At that time the artist would have added the principle figures, based upon other oil studies he had made on expedition. At the Empire of India Exhibition, in 1895, Weeks exhibited a study with a title which suggests that it may have been the first stage of the present work. At the exhibition, the artist showed a number of studies of the 'effect of morning light,' but only one of which was of the river at Ahmedabad.
Unlike most of his academic contemporaries, for Weeks plein air studies were not merely incidental, preparatory works. Rather, as in the present painting, they could become beautiful, fully-realized works-acute snapshots of the figures and things of daily life in an exotic land.
We wish to thank Dr. Ellen K. Morris for preparing this catalogue entry. This painting will be included in the catalogue raisonné under preparation by Dr. Morris.