Jagdish and Kamla Mittal Museum of Indian Art
16TH TO 19TH CENTURY
Over the post forty years, Indian
'miniature' paintings have become increasingly popular in India and the West, among art scholars, collectors, artists and others, on account of their meticulous
workmanship, passionately warm and vibrant scheme of colours, and for their variety of styles and themes. Yet, these very qualifies tend to obscure the charm underlying the colour surfaces covering the
drawing. Eclipsed by the dazzling Indian 'miniatures', drawings by the same painters have languished in comparative obscurity. In truth, few connoisseurs of Indian miniature paintings, which are becoming something of a fad, have had access to good drawings. Although Coomaraswamy's two 'lndian Drawings' monographs of 1910 and 1912 hoped they would be 'welcomed as a revelation of an exquisite but hitherto almost unknown art, enough brilliant examples were not available to him to warrant his enthusiasm. Even during the early 1950's, where miniatures flooded the art market from the Indian palace godowns and from English country homes, there were no drawings, for they were part of the artists studio and not meant for the patrons.
Luckily, during the late 1950's, two discerning art dealers, Ramgopal Vijaiwargiya of Jaipur and P. R. Kapoor of Delhi, acquired thousands of drawings, some of them of magnificent quality, from the families of artists. While Vijaiwargiya made his buys from Rajasthan, chiefly Kotah and Jaipur, Kapoor succeeded in retrieving them from attics of the descendants of artist families of Guler, Kangra and Basohli. Between 1949 and 1957, I was fortunate in acquiring almost the entire lots of drawings from descendants of two major artist families of Chamba in Himachal Pradesh. Apart from this group from Chamba, most of the drawings exhibited here are selections from those acquired by Vijaiwargiya and Kapoor. In the first major exhibition of eighty' lndian Drawings and Painted Sketches' organised in 1976 by Stuart Cary Welch at the Asia House Gallery in New York, sixteen drawings were from the Mittal Museum, ten of which are on display in the present show.
Drawing is essential for painting of any kind. A 'drawing' or a 'sketch' establishes such an intimate contact with the artist that we can share in the workings of his mind and imagination. The energy, expressive quality and decision which we find in drawings is often lacking in even the paintings of the same theme by the some artist. Also, Indian drawings are a class apart from the work of Western painters since the former do not seriously attempt to express human emotions on the face of the subjects but through their postures and gestures.
The use of pencils and crayons for drawing were unknown to Indian painters. Nib pens were rarely used; but, at the folk level, reed pens were employed at times. Like their Chinese and Japanese counterparts, the Indian artists mastered the use of the brush, for their early apprenticeship started with its use. The brushes for drawing were mode from squirrel-tail hair. Indian painters often used charcoal, and sometimes red ochre or carmine, for sketching their preliminary ideas. Such a preliminary sketch was subsequently corrected, either, by overpainting it with a thin layer of white and then doing a final drawing, or, by using the charcoal sketch as a base upon which the final drawing was directly drawn by brush with black ink. Drawings were done on single sheets or sometimes layers of two or three sheets of Indian handmade paper posted together, primed with white, and burnished by agate. In many a case, the artist has drawn freely on both sides of a paper.
The artist rarely drew directly from nature, for he was trained to work in a highly conceptual manner; the human figures, animals, birds, trees, motifs or any other elements of a composition were readily drawn from memory. The artist observed and retained in his memory, the salient features, characteristics and moods of both animate and inanimate subjects and he could, when the need arose, draw from this internalized accumulation. Fluctuations certainly occurred in the style and themes of drawings; these depended on the region and period in which the artist was working, as well as the atelier he received his training from. But irrespective of whether he served Hindu, Muslim or British patrons, he strove genuinely to maintain his ancestral legacy of sensitivity and acute observation. As in most countries, the artist did not usually belong to the upper classes. Like the work of masons and other artisans in India, the creations of painters are also, almost always, nameless.
Indian painters of all periods and schools first made a drawing and then filled in the colours in order to make a painting. However, the painters of the Mughal, Deccani, Rajasthani and the Punjab Hill (Pahari) schools, between the 16th and the 19th centuries, were particularly fond of drawing for its own sake. Portraits of rulers, chiefs and common folk, portrayals of elephants, horses, lions, other animals and birds, depictions of processions, baffle and court scenes, illustrations to mythological, romantic and literary narratives, compositions based on the Ragamala (series of musical modes), the Barahmasa (twelve months) and erotic themes were drawn and used for preparing either individual paintings or a series of paintings for patrons. They also prepared designs for decorative art objects. For maturing his own work, the artist constantly made a number of rapid sketches, being studies of people, animals and objects. He drew with almost devotional intent, for he was deeply in love with all manifestations of life and nature. Some drawings were made only for the sheer pleasure of the artist.
Mughal artists, commissioned to paint specific events and portraits, needed to constantly invent new compositions and to set down immediate observations for future reference. While the Mughal pointers endeavored to develop the means to record accurately what they perceived around them, the painters in the Deccan, on the contrary, made conscious efforts at refining the expressive beauty of line and colour. Drawings by artists of the Mughal and Deccani schools, and works made under their influence by Bikaner and Jaipur artists, show astonishing accuracy of detail, meticulousness and technical finesse.
The attributes of pointers from the Rajasthani schools are their subtlety, boldness and economy. Through line, and only sometimes with colour, the artists express extraordinary nuances of feeling. Particularly, the Kotah and Bundi artists, from at least the late seventeenth century onwards, used drawings with greater abandon than most of their other Rajasthani colleagues. They have been found in sizeable numbers, are freer, more playful and preciser observations of the forms they drew. These Kotoh-Bundi artists used broad and decisive brush strokes. Sometimes, instead of executing a planned sketch, they simply doodled; even their random scrawls on small pieces of paper show their delight in working the variants of form and movement in an abstracted idiom of their own. Even late into the nineteenth century, an element of exuberant creativity survives in the work of the Kotah-Bundi artists. From the seventeenth century onwards, these artists began to work in unusually large formats, for they were commissioned to execute wall paintings on palaces and shrines. Kotah artists wondered freely, sketching all aspects of life, and made penetrating and dashing sketches. Sometimes they accompanied their patrons on their hunts and several such sketches, made on the spot, survive. Perhaps the great portrayals of hunting scenes, and lions and elephants locked in combat, where the animals are often more important than the patrons themselves, are a result of these excursions. From the modest Devgarh thikana of Mewar come comparatively fluid, yet extremely , sensitive drawings by two stylistically distinct painters, Bagata and Chokha who were active during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
Pahari drawings, done between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, are comparatively calmer, refined, finely drawn and lyrical. These drawings are among the most graceful and appealing in Indian painting. Work of the artist families of Guler and Chamba, chiefly from the eighteenth century, is remarkable and displays all the best qualifies of Pahari painting, While the style of these two schools is derived from the late Mughal paintings, the mood is not; they are gentle, spontaneous and more lyrical. The work from Guler, and its offshoot Kangra, leans towards tender idealization. There are Pahari examples where the artists intention was to caricature an assembly of people. such as the saints and musicians he saw in his region. Such examples, though rare, are invariably based on shrewd but sympathetic observation. From the nineteenth century, we have Indian drawings of the 'Company School', painted for the British residents in India and other visiting Western patrons. Most of them are fully painted sketches rather than drawings in their own right. Also deserving mention, are the drawings on the palm leaf manuscripts of Orissa, which exist in fairly large numbers. These were drawn by incising lines with a pointed stylus, rubbing black pigment into the incisions, and sometimes painting in areas. Although their quality is superb, in intent they are as finished as any painting.
To my mind, Indian drawings possess a language entirely their own. No written words can express their charm. As an artist, my love to for them began in 1949 when I first saw them, only as great works of art; my appreciation of them was based on my instinctive feeling on viewing them rather than any knowledge of schools, dates or their artists. This faculty I did not have then; it come later. So we stop and let the exhibited drawings speak to you directly, without a veil.
(An essay written for an exhibition of Indian Drawings from the collection of the Jagdish and Kamla Mittal Museum of Indian Art, Hyderabad)
Illustrations: Top 1-3 - Mughal, c. 1650-1700; 4 - Ahmednagar, c. 1590; 5 - Kotah, c.1780; 6 - Guler, c. 1760; 7 - Guler or Jammu, attr. Nainsukh c. 1750;