special to The Tribune
Shyam Bhatia in London
Erotic miniature paintings from 19th century Punjab and other parts of India are expected to create a sensation when they come up for sale at Christie’s in London early next month.
Two of the water colours are from the Sikh School of Art that flourished in the 19th century Lahore durbar during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Painted with opaque pigments and gold on paper, they depict a couple in an arched interior against a backdrop of heavy curtains and floral carpet with blue and red borders.
A third painting believed to be from Udaipur, titled An Amorous Embrace, depicts a couple on a terrace, lying on a carpet, the woman richly adorned with incriptions in Urdu and an old Udaipur stamp on the reverse.
A fourth painting believed to be from 1875 Tamil Nadu uses transparent pigments on paper and depicts a couple in an amorous embrace. The identifying inscription is watermarked ‘Dwarkanauth SE IN &C London Manufacture 1873.
A fifth painting from the mid-19th century Company School, India, a reference to the East India Company, also depicts an amorous couple set against a floral background on European paper watermarked ‘TH Saunders &Co 1847.
No less significant, although possibly less controversial, is a portrait of Rani Jind Kaur, mother of Maharaja Dalip Singh. It shows her seated on an arm chair, her feet on a foot stool, on a terrace under a marble arch. She holds her gold embroidered green shawl against her chest with black and pink borders and old English identification inscription in pencil along the bottom edge and reverse. Rani Jindan died in London on August 1, 1863.
From the same period is a portrait of Raja Hira Singh, son of Raja Dhian Singh of Jammu and nephew of Maharaja Gulab Singh, who served as Prime Minister to Dalip Singh from 1843-1844.
All paintings are being sold by Christie’s as part of their April 8-11 sale in two parts, featuring riches from the Islamic and Indian worlds.
Art experts in London say erotic art and sculptures from India are a common subject but they tend to be hidden. Commenting on the erotic miniatures, Christie’s art specialist Romain Pingannaud told the Tribune, “Many may have been painted, but very few come on to the market. You don’t see them very often.”
Among the other treasures up for auction is a high quality, white jade pendant, elegantly inscribed with verses from the Koran and dated 1597-98, making it the earliest known Mughal jade.
A Christie’s expert comments that although there are very few extant Mughal jades that can be plausibly attributed to the period of Akbar’s reign, the existence of such works may be inferred through the visit to the Imperial court in 1563 of a central Asian jade merchant, Khwaja Mu’in, who was the overseer at the main jade-bearing river in Kashgar (now part of China and close to the border with Tajikistan).
Sara Plumbly, head of Islamic Art at Christie’s, told The Tribune that the jade pendant for sale was believed to have calming properties and was worn to cure the wearer’s palpitations.
“A number of jades exist from Akbar’s period but they generally tend to be heavier,” Plumbly explained. “He also tended to favour dark green jade, rather than the white jade used here and his son, Prince Salim, later the Emperor Jehangir, was also a patron of the arts. It seems most likely that this was one of the earliest pieces produced for him,” said Plumbly.
A folio from a Mughal album made for Akbar’s grandson, Shah Jehan, is also up for auction. It features delicate and detailed flowers that demonstrate the Mughal rulers’ love of the natural world and is signed by the famous 17th century calligrapher Mir ‘Ali al-Katib Mir. He and his work were much admired by Mughal emperors of the 17th century.