Welch 1973, p. 116, no. 69
Patnaik 1985, no.13, pp.65-67
Welch 1994, pp. 90-91
Kossak 1997, p. 109, no. 67
This is a wonderful painting. Simultaneously humorous, striking, powerful, intriguing, joyous, and with an extraordinary wealth of detail, it presents an image of the Holi festival that erupts with spring-like vigour and energy - a veritable orgy of colour. It is also one of the largest and most important miniatures from the provincial Mughal schools of the second half of the 18th century.
An important aspect that seems, surprisingly, to have escaped Welch's notice, or at least solicited no comment, is the presence of an inscription on the reverse of the picture in an English hand with the initials W.F. and the date 1764. This not only provides a terminus post quem for the production of the painting (Cary Welch had suggested circa 1765, and even if the picture had been executed a year or two before the English owner inscribed the reverse, Welch's dating is satisfyingly close), but also indicates that it was in the possession of Dr William Fullarton (also spelled Fullerton), the Scottish surgeon who was resident in Bengal and Bihar from 1744 to 1766 and was well-known for his patronage and collecting of Indian painting. A famous portrait of Fullarton seated on a terrace smoking a huqqa is in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and several other portraits of Indian sitters (often friends of Fullarton) in the same collection and in the British Library (India Office Collections) bear the initials W. F. and a date on the back. For instance, a pair of portraits of Ashraf Ali Khan and his mistress in the British Library have W.F. 1764 inscribed on the reverse, exactly the same as on the present work. For further references to Fullarton see Losty and Leach, nos.27-28; Archer 1972, pp.59-60; Welch 1978, no.1; Guy and Swallow 1990, no.172, pp.196-197.
In the present composition the nawab and his entourage are arranged on a terrace in the foreground, set against a dramatic enclosed garden with large open flower-beds bursting with blooming red and yellow flowers, which supply the dye to make the coloured powders and liquids. A line of miniscule gardeners carry baskets of petals from the gardens towards the terrace. The nawab and his princely companion sit in the centre of the terrace in apparently demure sobriety, yet a close look reveals the nawab (seated on the left) cooly squirting a jet of yellow dye at his female attendants; and the smiles on the faces of almost all the figures tells us that although it may be a courtly gathering, it is being thoroughly enjoyed by all. There are splendid details amongst the crowd of revellers, including a male figure on the right with a protruding belly and arched back who looks straight out at the viewer, engaging us in the revelry too. There is no doubt, however, about the wealth and status of the court. All the Holi syringes are gold, as are the musical instruments, the nawab's huqqa is richly decorated, and he is seated on a gold-embroidered carpet. It is one of several works in the Cary Welch Collection that strongly reward close inspection, in which the more you look, the more you find (see also, for example, lots 111, 112 and 113). A silver Holi syringe of similar type to those depicted in this painting is lot 99 in this sale.
As Mughal power began to weaken in Delhi, the independant Muslim states of Awadh and Hyderabad increased in wealth and became hives of cultural activity. Artists, musicians and poets flocked to these courts to seek employment. Several artists who had been working under Muhammad Shah in Delhi relocated to Awadh and began to develop a distinctive Awadhi school of painting that was derived from Mughal painting traditions. As well as portraits, terrace and festival scenes such as this were popular subject-matters.
In the catalogue accompanying the 1973 exhibition A Flower from Every Meadow, Welch described this painting as follows:
"Holi was once an exclusively Hindu celebration of spring, a saturnalia when high (and low) spirits could be released ecstatically. Perhaps because this was such fun, and because the Mughals, including the emperors, married Rajput girls, the Mughals also celebrated it. If at first it was an abandoned, chaotic, fertility festival, it became increasingly ritualized as patterns of behaviour changed. In painting, Holi can be recognized by the red powder and liquid, made from tesu blossoms, which was tossed and jetted by spray guns resembling hypodermic needles. The effect on spotless white clothing must have been the dhobi's nightmare, but it was a delight to the less compulsively tidy.
In this large picture, a Muslim nobleman has assembled his family, courtiers, musicians, dancers, and buffoons on an island. They disport on a marble terrace in front of a garden resembling a color-field picture by Jules Olitski. The space is arresting and haunting, with its fringe of treetops seen around the edge of the garden, against the silvery water. If the prince is essentially formal, decorously aiming at his aristocratic wazir and surrounded by a battery of ornamental gadgets, such as water pipes, salvers of sweetmeats, boxes of prepared betel nut (pan), his shield, and flowers, some of his friends are reviving the good old days. Nature spirits cut loose. Pretty girls, whose black hair groups together in an amoeba-like pattern, squirt one another with military ferocity. Two of them gang up on a mock-serious giant, and sully him fore and aft." (Welch 1973, p. 116)
In 1994 he published the picture again in an article on comical Indian pictures, describing it thus:
"A large painting in whites and reds laced together by farcical antics depicts Holi, a Hindu festival dedicated to agricultural fertility, also enjoyed by Muslims. Commissioned somewhere in Oudh during the 1760s, this lively composition shows a poker-faced nawab spraying his seniormost courtier while dancing girls, clowns and musicians prance and cavort" (Welch 1994, p.90)
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Vedi L'Asta In Diretta