Illustration to the Gita Govinda- Radha and Krishna in a Bower, circa 1775. Photo: Carlton Rochell Asian Art.
NEW YORK, NY.- Carlton Rochell will present a special exhibition devoted to thirty-seven important classical Indian paintings from an American Private Collection. The exhibition will be open to the public from Friday, March 13 through Friday, March 20, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Classical Indian paintings, aptly referred to as Indian miniatures because of their small scale and fine, jewel-like quality, were painted for royal patrons. Either to glorify the reign of a particular ruler, or more typically, to illustrate one of the ancient Hindu texts, these paintings were a significant aspect of Indian culture, both from an artistic and devotional point of view. Unlike other parts of the world, where painters’ principal commissions were large in format, the most talented and iconic Indian artists focused their efforts on these diminutive images. Given the numerous Indian courts at any given moment, the style and subject matter of the paintings differs regionally, as does the quality. Originally compiled in albums, which have long since been dispersed, single folios from known sets are now found in various collections around the world. Carlton Rochell’s exhibition features masterwork examples from some of the most desirable and rare albums of Rajasthani and Pahari painting, making it a prime opportunity for museums and collectors to acquire important examples of the genre. A show of this caliber, in this collecting category, has not been assembled for New York Asia Week in years; it will be a unique and special event.
Highlights include a page from one of the most prized sets of Indian painting, a Gita Govinda series dating to circa 1775 from the Punjab Hills region of Guler. The Gita Govinda tells the tale of Krishna and Radha’s volatile romance, paralleling the universal experience of love; the main characters face desire, hope, pride, disappointment, anger and reconciliation. This particular version of the epic is of the highest quality, having been commissioned for the wedding of Sansar Chand to the daughter of Kishan Singh of Suket in 1781, and attributable to the workshop-lineage of the great masters Pandit Seu, Nainsukh, and Manaka. Its lush landscapes, idealized figures and delicate brushwork are beautifully displayed in the exhibited image of Krishna and Radha in a Bower, making love. From a set known to have over 150 pages, over 35 of which have been published, this stands out as one of the most desirable given its joyful subject matter, which is reflected in the composition’s lush foliage and rich palette.
Also from the highly sought-after school of painting in Guler, is an image depicting Krishna lifting the Mountain Govardhana. The page belonged to a now dispersed 1740 Bhagavata Purana series, a manuscript that celebrates the life and deeds of Krishna, and would have been one of the highlights in the album. A beloved subject, particularly in areas populated with ardent Krishna devotees, the myth tells of the blue-skinned deity raising a mountain to shield the locals from a fierce storm sent by the god, Indra, whose wrath they had incurred. All were left in awe of Krishna’s celebrated miracle. Works from this set are not often available, making this an exceptional acquisition opportunity for collectors of Indian painting.
Showcasing a different style of Punjab Hills painting, this time from Chamba, circa 1790, is an image of Rama and Sita enthroned. This final scene from the Ramayana, an epic telling the tale of Rama’s arduous journey, is jubilant; he is reunited with his wife and crowed King. The couple’s loyal companion, the monkey Hanuman, and Rama’s brother, Laksmana, both of whom helped Rama in his quest to recover his kidnapped bride, are depicted alongside them. The complete version of the event is filled with the multitudes of cohorts who had aided Rama along the way, however that rendition requires a much larger format. Given the subject’s popularity, smaller versions populated only by the main characters, such as this, became common as icons for individual worship. Here, the figures stand out against a vivid orange background, creating a particularly striking and aesthetically pleasing composition.
From Rajasthan, a circa 1770 Bundi painting depicts Krishna watching Radha take her evening bath. It is an exceptional example of the regional style of the period, which has been described as a hedonistic art and is notable for its arresting white architecture, brilliant use of shading and figural modeling, the depiction of women from a three-quarter angle, and controlled use of space. In this scene, Radha stands unclothed under lush foliage, waiting for her maid to return with water, while her lover climbs the exterior stairs, flower in hand, in hopes of gaining entry. Although a wall separates them, they appear to meet one another’s gaze through the divide; their attraction is palpable. A soft glow has been cast over the entire scene by the setting sun on the horizon. Stylistically, a comparison can be made between this page and others from the famous “Boston Ragamala” series, suggesting that they may be attributable to the same hand, an unnamed artist of great repute.
Another standout Rajasthani painting, signed by the renowned Mewar artist, Tara, and dated to circa 1844-5, portrays Maharana Sarup Singh (1842-61) throwing a spear into the trunk of a papaya tree on Jagmandir Island. The Maharana, a passionate patron of the arts, holds his spear high, and his body is twisted to highlight the throwing motion. Behind him, the court, all specifically named in an inscription, are neatly arranged in rows to watch the acumen of their leader who throws his spear perfectly into the trunk of a papaya tree. The larger format is a distinctive feature of Tara’s work, as are the crisp lines, and brilliant use of color and space. Considered to be the final great chapter of Mewar art, his paintings are especially esteemed.
Carlton Rochell opened his gallery in October of 2002 and has handled important works of art from renowned collections including Mr. and Mrs. Jack Zimmerman, Dr. David R. Nalin, Mr. Willard Clark, and Mr. Robert H. Ellsworth. Holland Cotter of the New York Times in his review of the inaugural exhibition in 2002 wrote “The arrival of a new, open-to-the public gallery devoted to Indian and Southeast Asian art is an event for the city; such showcases are few and far between…although Himalayan and Cambodian bronzes are among the most exquisite items, the gallery is dominated by several large-scale sculptures of a kind we rarely see outside museums.”
Illustration to a Ragamala Series: Rag Vinod Hindol Sut. India, Nurpur, circa 1690. Opaque watercolor on paper. Height: 8 1/4 x 8 1/4 inches (21 x 21 cm). Photo: Carlton Rochell Asian Art.