Samsam al-Daula Khan Dauran watching a firework display, signed by Kalyan Rai (probably Kalyan Das, known as Chitarman II), Mughal, circa 1719-25
- watercolour and gouache on paper
- painting: 25.1 by 33.2cm.
leaf: 31.2 by 47.7cm.
Kalyan Das was one of the leading painters of the early eighteenth century and was one of the main artists who revived and enriched the court style under Muhammad Shah (r.1719-48). McInerney describes him as most important of all the later Mughal court painters, and goes on to say that "in terms of aesthetic achievement, pictorial innovations and historical influence, he was unrivalled by any 18th-century painter." (op cit, p.547).
The present work is notable for its richness, with a profuse use of gold, not just in the fireworks but in the textiles, candles and other objects in the foreground. Another remarkable element, and one that requires very close scrutiny indeed, is the inclusion of tiny, delicate figures of men and horsemen amid the fireworks on the far bank of the lake, and the artist has also delicately painted their reflections in the water at the edge of the lake. The rich formality of the foreground terrace scene, the brilliance of the display of light in the background and the extraordinary detail combines to form an alluring masterpiece. The main figure has been identified by McInerney as Muhammad Shah (op.cit., p.548). However, the facial features of the main figure here are somewhat different from all other portraits of Muhammad Shah and it appears that in fact the subject is Samsam al-Daula Khan Dauran, a senior official under Emperor Farrukhsiyar and then Muhammad Shah, for whom he served as commander-in-chief. Three portraits of Samsam al-Daula Khan Dauran are in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, all dated in the 1720s and 1730s, one of which is attributed to Kalyan Das, the artist of the present painting (see Hurel 2010, nos.120-122, pp.103-107, particularly no.120 for the closest likeness). For a large Mughal Qur'an dedicated to Samsam al-Daula Khan Dauran, see Sotheby's, Arts of the Islamic World, 19 October 2016, lot 180.
It is interesting to note a very similar painting of a firework display signed by the artist Hashim of approximately the same date as the present work (San Diego Museum of Art, Edwin Binney 3rd Collection, 1990.374, see Binney 1973, no.74, p.99, McInerney 2002, p.19, no.5; see also Sotheby's London, 26 March 1973, lot 32). Not only are the overall composition and theme very close, but the group of women on the terrace are identical in positioning and individual pose in both works. While the presence of a group of women on a terrace is a common feature of later Mughal painting, in this case the arrangement of the women is so similar as to imply that the two artists Kalyan Das/Chitarman II and Hashim were working within the same studio and using shared compositional models, or perhaps that Hashim (not to be confused with the early Mughal artist of the same name) was a pupil of Kalyan Das.