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kalighat paintings suhashini sinha

kalighat paintings suhashini sinha


Kalighat Paintings from the collection of

Victoria and Albert Museum Victoria Memorial Hall

Suhashini Sinha

V&A Publishing in association with Mapin Publishing 2

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Kalighat Paintings from the collection of

Victoria and Albert Museum Victoria Memorial Hall

Suhashini Sinha

V&A Publishing in association with Mapin Publishing 2

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Religious Subjects Gods and Goddesses 1. Kali c.1860s Watercolour on paper over lithographed outline, with tin detail V&A, IS.3-1955

2. Kali trampling on her husband Shiva c.1860s Watercolour on paper over lithographed outline, with tin detail V&A, IS.78-1959 The image of Kali was the main type of pat (painting) sold as a pilgrim souvenir at the stalls around the temple at Kalighat. This composition of the Kali image reflects the main deity that is actually worshipped inside the temple. Her necklace of severed heads has been printed in lithographic outline then hand painted. The image encapsulates the main characteristics of the Kalighat genre: bright colours, bold outlines and a simple and striking visual image. 1

A contrasting depiction, again with a lithographed outline, shows Kali standing on her husband Shiva. Lithographic outlines were sometimes used in the mid 1800s to speed up the production of the most popular subject themes. The patuas used the printed outline as a rough guide, elaborating the composition with their own detail.

3. Ganesha 1830–1850 Watercolour on paper with tin detail V&A, IS.208-1950

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Seated on a triangular stool, with his rat vahana (vehicle) below, this became the classic Kalighat image of Ganesha throughout the 19th century and was copied many times. The early patuas (painters) experimented with variations of light and dark to show volume and shadow on different parts of the body, as can be seen on his folded legs and outstretched arms. Furniture in Kalighat paintings was always shown in a minimal way; the third leg of the stool has not been shown here but is assumed to be in place.

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Religious Subjects Gods and Goddesses 1. Kali c.1860s Watercolour on paper over lithographed outline, with tin detail V&A, IS.3-1955

2. Kali trampling on her husband Shiva c.1860s Watercolour on paper over lithographed outline, with tin detail V&A, IS.78-1959 The image of Kali was the main type of pat (painting) sold as a pilgrim souvenir at the stalls around the temple at Kalighat. This composition of the Kali image reflects the main deity that is actually worshipped inside the temple. Her necklace of severed heads has been printed in lithographic outline then hand painted. The image encapsulates the main characteristics of the Kalighat genre: bright colours, bold outlines and a simple and striking visual image. 1

A contrasting depiction, again with a lithographed outline, shows Kali standing on her husband Shiva. Lithographic outlines were sometimes used in the mid 1800s to speed up the production of the most popular subject themes. The patuas used the printed outline as a rough guide, elaborating the composition with their own detail.

3. Ganesha 1830–1850 Watercolour on paper with tin detail V&A, IS.208-1950

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Seated on a triangular stool, with his rat vahana (vehicle) below, this became the classic Kalighat image of Ganesha throughout the 19th century and was copied many times. The early patuas (painters) experimented with variations of light and dark to show volume and shadow on different parts of the body, as can be seen on his folded legs and outstretched arms. Furniture in Kalighat paintings was always shown in a minimal way; the third leg of the stool has not been shown here but is assumed to be in place.

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4. Shiva Mahadeva c.1850–1890 Watercolour on paper with tin detail VMH, R9295

5. Shiva and Parvati on the bull, Nandi 1830–1850 Watercolour on paper with tin detail V&A, IS.204-1950

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When Shiva and Parvati are shown together, they tend to be depicted in scenes of quiet domesticity; eating food together or as here, riding Shiva’s bull Nandi. Shiva is always painted as an ascetic, with a tiger skin loin cloth and snakes in his hair. Parvati is depicted as the gentle wife. The patuas would have begun to make use of imported British watercolours around the early to mid 1800s, allowing them to experiment with vibrant colour such as the blue used for the Nandi figure. The early decades of the century saw the patuas use precise amounts of metallic decoration to add emphasis to textiles or jewellery.

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6. Shiva Panchanana (Shiva the Five Faced) c1860s Watercolour on paper with tin detail V&A, IS.463-1950 7. Brahma c1860s Watercolour on paper with tin detail V&A, IM.2:85-1917 From the J. Lockwood Kipling Collection

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There are two conventions for painting multiple heads and faces shown in these two pats. Shiva Panchanana, the five-faced, controls the five senses and five directions. In order to represent this fully, he has been depicted with five distinct heads, each with individual sets of facial features. For the figure of four-headed Brahma, the patua has painted four faces, but used a popular device of painting a continuous chain of five eyes, rather than four pairs of eyes. This creates a clever optical illusion, while making the central figure easier to paint and possibly less time consuming.

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4. Shiva Mahadeva c.1850–1890 Watercolour on paper with tin detail VMH, R9295

5. Shiva and Parvati on the bull, Nandi 1830–1850 Watercolour on paper with tin detail V&A, IS.204-1950

24 • • Gods and Goddesses

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When Shiva and Parvati are shown together, they tend to be depicted in scenes of quiet domesticity; eating food together or as here, riding Shiva’s bull Nandi. Shiva is always painted as an ascetic, with a tiger skin loin cloth and snakes in his hair. Parvati is depicted as the gentle wife. The patuas would have begun to make use of imported British watercolours around the early to mid 1800s, allowing them to experiment with vibrant colour such as the blue used for the Nandi figure. The early decades of the century saw the patuas use precise amounts of metallic decoration to add emphasis to textiles or jewellery.

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6. Shiva Panchanana (Shiva the Five Faced) c1860s Watercolour on paper with tin detail V&A, IS.463-1950 7. Brahma c1860s Watercolour on paper with tin detail V&A, IM.2:85-1917 From the J. Lockwood Kipling Collection

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There are two conventions for painting multiple heads and faces shown in these two pats. Shiva Panchanana, the five-faced, controls the five senses and five directions. In order to represent this fully, he has been depicted with five distinct heads, each with individual sets of facial features. For the figure of four-headed Brahma, the patua has painted four faces, but used a popular device of painting a continuous chain of five eyes, rather than four pairs of eyes. This creates a clever optical illusion, while making the central figure easier to paint and possibly less time consuming.

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40. A cat with a prawn c.1850–1890 Watercolour on paper with tin detail VMH, R 5237

41. A cat with a fish c. 1920s Black paint on paper, line drawing V&A, IS.45-1952 By Kanai Lal Ghosh [Publication only]

42. A cat with a fish c.1890 Watercolour on paper V&A, IS.261-1955

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Religious hypocrisy, like babu culture, was often mocked through the medium of sang shows and pantomime. This popular entertainment for the masses would have been a source of visual reference for the patuas, enabling them to translate the same themes into their work.10 The cat eating animals is an allusion to the false ascetic and hypocrite known as ‘biral tapasvi’. It is connected with an old legend in the Mahabharata, telling of a cat that pretended to live the life of an ascetic while secretly continuing its habit of eating mice.11 The theme came to represent the falseness of certain Brahmin priests, whose religious orders forbade them to eat meat or fish, but who did so nonetheless. The line drawing on the same theme is datable to the 1920s on account of its being made once again by Kanai Lal Ghosh and purchased directly from the artist by W.G Archer. The lack of Vaishnavite markings here may suggest haste of execution by the patua, or it may just have fallen out of use by the 1920s for another reason. The Kolkata audiences would be familiar with the subject matter. Other animals are also depicted held in the cat’s mouth, in paintings from other collections such as a prawn/lobster (VMH and Bodleian Library collections), parrot (Gurusaday Museum) and mouse (Bodleian Library collections). The V&A’s colour version also shows the lack of marks on the forehead of the animal, and dates from the later part of the 1800s.

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40. A cat with a prawn c.1850–1890 Watercolour on paper with tin detail VMH, R 5237

41. A cat with a fish c. 1920s Black paint on paper, line drawing V&A, IS.45-1952 By Kanai Lal Ghosh [Publication only]

42. A cat with a fish c.1890 Watercolour on paper V&A, IS.261-1955

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Religious hypocrisy, like babu culture, was often mocked through the medium of sang shows and pantomime. This popular entertainment for the masses would have been a source of visual reference for the patuas, enabling them to translate the same themes into their work.10 The cat eating animals is an allusion to the false ascetic and hypocrite known as ‘biral tapasvi’. It is connected with an old legend in the Mahabharata, telling of a cat that pretended to live the life of an ascetic while secretly continuing its habit of eating mice.11 The theme came to represent the falseness of certain Brahmin priests, whose religious orders forbade them to eat meat or fish, but who did so nonetheless. The line drawing on the same theme is datable to the 1920s on account of its being made once again by Kanai Lal Ghosh and purchased directly from the artist by W.G Archer. The lack of Vaishnavite markings here may suggest haste of execution by the patua, or it may just have fallen out of use by the 1920s for another reason. The Kolkata audiences would be familiar with the subject matter. Other animals are also depicted held in the cat’s mouth, in paintings from other collections such as a prawn/lobster (VMH and Bodleian Library collections), parrot (Gurusaday Museum) and mouse (Bodleian Library collections). The V&A’s colour version also shows the lack of marks on the forehead of the animal, and dates from the later part of the 1800s.

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Kalighat Paintings  

Sample pages from Kalighat Paintings, edited by Suhashini Sinha. Published January 2012. ISBN 9781851776658