Lot 20
  • 20


30,000 - 50,000 GBP
493,250 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Opaque Watercolour and gold on paper
  • 21.8 by 15.6cm. (8½ by 6 1/8 in.)
Opaque watercolour and gold on paper, inscribed on reverse, "a gathering of the uninformed, wine-drinking, restless ones"


India, Art and Culture, 1300-1900, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1985


Welch 1985, no.250, pp.372-3
Patnaik 1985, pl.34, p.102
Welch 1994, fig.19, pp.76, 100-101
Haidar 2000, figs.7, 7a, pp.86-87
Habighorst, Reichart and Sharma 2007, pl.61, p.93

Catalogue Note

This remarkable miniature, notable for its painterly refinement as well as its arresting subject matter, has been attributed to both Bhavanidas and Nihal Chand, the two leading artists at Kishangarh in the second quarter of the 18th century.

The subject matter, described by Haidar as "a riotous scene of debauchery on a terrace" and "a tour de force of humorous painting"  (Haidar 2000, p.85), is enigmatically orgiastic and comically intriguing.  Welch notes that "the satire, broad humour and sexual expliciteness .... in this nocturnal gambol... are blended with such masterful sleight of hand that viewers respond not to the painting's "depravity" but to its delicacy of handling" (Welch 1985, p.372).

In the catalogue of the 1985 exhibition India, Art and Culture 1300-1900 Welch discussed its attribution as follows:
"This miniature, with its biting, Goyaesque grotesquerie and savage humour, must have been painted at a time when Sawant Singh had turned against the mundane and yet could be amused by the recollection of evil. His remarkably creative collaboration with his major artist, Nihal Chand, to whom we assign this picture on the basis of inscribed works, produced some of the most perfervidly dreamlike - at times nightmarish - pictures in all of Indian art" (p.372)

Navina Haidar, writing 15 years later, discusses the themes of satire and humour running through this picture, before suggesting an attribution to Bhavanidas:
" The subject matter of this picture makes it unique; no other work depicting such exuberant and explicit intemperance is known from Kishangarh. The highly skilled quality of the painting, particularly the delicate detailing, use of gold, shading and colouring, show this to be the work of a superior artist. This technical finesse along with the imaginative characterization of the figures suggests that the artist was again Bhavanidas, who must have executed it in circa 1740. This painting reveals curious insights into the psychology of the artist and his patron, both of whom must have shared a complex, subtle and sardonically humorous perception of the world" (Haidar 2000, p.87).

One aspect that has not so far been commented upon is the spectacular light show and firework display in the background. Even the boats on the river are lit, perhaps acting as floating firework platforms. This aspect perhaps indicates that the scene on the terrace is taking place during Diwali, although this festival is more usually known for its calm and family-orientated celebrations.

Bhavanidas was a master at the Mughal court who arrived in Kishangarh in 1719 during the reign of Raja Rai Singh (r. 1706-1748). Several works have been attributed to Bhavanidas during his years at the Mughal court and after his arrival in Kishangarh (see Falk 1992; Leach 1995, vol.I, no.4.7, col.pl.74, p.489, Haidar 2000), and he is considered to have been enormously influential in the development of the Kishangarh atelier and style. Falk notes that "his powers of emotional expression, satire and caricature were beyond the reach of other Rajput artists" (Falk 1992) perhaps supporting Haidar's later attribution of the present work to Bhavanidas. A selective list of works painted by Bhavanidas at Kishangarh is given in Falk 1992.

Nihal Chand was the master artist of the mid 18th century who is said to have developed the distinctive elongated figures and features and intense lyrical, sensuous mood that became known as the "Kishangarh Style". He was influenced by his older colleague Bhavanidas and became the leading artist under the patronage of Savant Singh (r.1748-64) both before and after he succeeded his father as Raja in 1748.

For discussions of the Kishangarh School and the artists Bhavanidas and Nihalchand, see Dickinson and Khandalavala 1959; Randhawa and Galbraith 1968, pp.101-109; Randhawa and Randhawa 1980; Falk 1992; Ahluwalia 2008, pp.106-111.

Cary Welch's handwritten notes on the backboard of the frame are as follows:
"By the Light of the Moon, Lamps and Fireworks, Kishangarh, ca.1740, By Nihal Chand?"
Obese Mughal, crumpling forward, aglow with moonlight -
painterly sinuous freedom of brushwork, particularly in the wiggling tracery of gold ornaments and blazing, glittering fireworks - halucinatory amalgams of faces
division into smaller episodes:
besotted old Mughal Noblemen, foreswearing the attention of his charming partner for his cup and bottle
combat of lady musicians, one of whom attacks another with her lute -
overt sexuality of pair of busybodies in the foreground: a "lady " whose equipment is most unladylike -
an old lady oblivious to the ecstatic mood -
still life arrangements of bottles, a drum wrapped in red cloth and many sort of lamps
Affectively staccatto frame composed of black and off-white squares, like the thud-thud of a drum -
overall appearance of melting and oozing
Note the blue & white bottle, of Rajasthani origin (Mewar?)