An exceptional group of Indian miniature paintings will be at the heart of Bonhams’ Indian, Himalayan & Southeast Asian art sale taking place during New York’s Asia Week on Monday, 14 March 2016 at 4pm, with a total sale estimate of $4-6 million.
Leading the sale is a beautiful painting from the famed Kangra Rasikapriya, once in the collection of Abdur Rahman Chughtai (1897-1975). Chughtai, who many consider to be the first significant modern Muslim artist from South Asia, was heavily inspired by miniature paintings. The Kangra Rasikapriya was produced under the supervision of master court artist Purkhu (active ca. 1780–1820), and the skilled landscape and large figures may indicate his hand in this painting. It illustrates a poem exploring the emotions and behaviors of lovers in all forms and stages. This painting depicts Chapter 3, Verses 45-47, wherein Radha’s response to Krishna’s unfaithfulness has matured from outburst to self-affirmed dissatisfaction. Now she is the dhira, the canniest lover, who has learnt to better express her disappointment with a cold shoulder, or well-timed sarcasm. Folio 48 from the Kangra Rasikapriya, from the school of Purkhu, Kangra, circa 1810 is estimated at $40,000-60,000.
Also formerly from the collection of Abdur Rahman Chughtai, and complementing the Kangra Rasikapriya painting is another of Radha and Krishna from the contemporaneous Guler court. Divine Loveplay Under Moonlight, circa 1810, is estimated at $30,000-40,000. An almost identical version is held in the Collection of the Bharat Kala Bhavan, Varanasi, and reproduced in M.S. Randhawa’s important publication, Kangra Paintings on Love, New Delhi, 1962, Colorplate XIX, p. 185.
The painting illustrates a poem in Gurmukhi, which is inscribed on the top of the Bharat Kala version. In it, Radha is described as teasing her lover by painting her chest like a bodice instead of actually wearing one. When Krishna suavely motions to untie its strings behind her back, he fumbles awkwardly. She turns her head aside, hardly able to contain her mischief.
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 explosion of 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 colors. 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 truly 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 & Research at Varanasi, within the prized Suresh Noetia collection.
On the rising market for Indian miniatures, Edward Wilkinson, US Director of Indian, Himalayan & Southeast Asian Art, commented “Domestic auction results of 2015 in India testified to a sudden surge in demand for miniatures, indicating that now is the time to buy, before the rising tide continues to increase the price one must pay for quality.”
For more information, visit www.bonhams.com/auctions/23200/