Bonhams to auction rare Indian miniature paintings

Bonhams to auction rare Indian miniature paintings

By OUR CORRESPONDENT | | 5 March, 2016
From the collection of Abdur Rahman Chugtai, circa 1810.

Bonhams, a privately owned British auction house and one of the world's oldest and largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques, has announced that it will auction an exceptional and extraordinary series of Indian miniature paintings that will be at the heart of its Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian art sale during New York’s Asia Week, which kicks off on 14 March. With a total sale estimate of $4-6 million, the auction consists of a selective offering focused on rarity, quality, and provenance.

Leading the sale is a beautiful painting from the famed Kangra Rasikapriya which was once in the collection of Abdur Rahman Chughtai (1897-1975). Chughtai is considered to be the first significant modern muslim artist to emerge from South Asia, who was heavily inspired by miniature paintings.  The Kangra Rasikapriya was produced under the supervision of master court artist Purkhu (1780–1820), and the skilled landscape and large figures indicate his hand in the painting. It illustrates a poem which explores the emotions and behaviors of lovers in all forms and stages. The painting depicts Radha’s response to Krishna’s unfaithfulness which has matured from outburst to self-affirmed dissatisfaction. Now she is the dhira, the canniest lover, who has learnt to express her disappointment with a cold shoulder or well-timed sarcasm. The Kangra Rasikapriya from the school of Purkhu — Kangra, circa 1810 is estimated at $40,000-60,000.

Also formerly from the collection of Chughtai, and complementing the Kangra Rasikapriya painting is another painting featuring Radha and Krishna from the contemporaneous Guler court — Divine Loveplay Under Moonlight, circa 1810, which is estimated at $30,000-40,000. An almost identical version exists in the collection of the Bharat Kala Bhavan, Varanasi. It was also reproduced in M.S. Randhawa’s important publication — Kangra Paintings on Love, New Delhi, 1962. The painting illustrates a poem in Gurmukhi, which is inscribed on the top of the Bharat Kala version where Radha tricks Krishna.

On the rising market of the Indian miniatures, Edward Wilkinson, US Director of Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian Art, says “Domestic auction results of 2015 in India testified to a sudden surge in demand for miniatures. It indicates that now is the time to buy, before the rising tide continues to increase the price one must pay for quality.”

Meanwhile from Rajasthan, there is a vibrant painting from an early school, long misattributed to the small Mughal principality of Malwa — that has recently received an outpouring scholarly and market interest. Scholarship by expert Konrad Seitz has convincingly reattributed the ‘Malwa school’ to the Bundela courts at Orchha, Datia, and Panna in his recent landmark book Orchha, Datia, Panna: “Malwa”- Miniaturen von den rajputischen Hofen Bundelkhands, 1580-1850, Cologne, 2015.  From a well-known illustrated Ramayana, the painting for sale depicts Hanuman knocking Ravan’s brother, the great demon Kumbhakarna to the ground. Typical of Orchha’s spirited charm, the narrative here is intensified by a brilliant red background juxtaposed with complementary colours. An illustration from a Ramayana series: Kumbhakarna Downed by Hanuman’s Blow, Orchha, circa 1550-1660, is estimated $8,000-12,000.

The sale also features a painting from a celebrated Bhagavata Purana series from Bikaner, circa 1700-10, famed for its true miniature proportions. It shows Krishna and Balram dispatching an emissary to seek out the welfare of the Pandava brothers, seen clustered together at centre far right. Ambitiously scaled yet meticulously detailed — colour and pose create a remarkable sense of intimacy within each palatial scene. Two paintings from the same series are held in the Centre for Cultural Studies and Research at Varanasi, within the prized Suresh Noetia collection.

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