Horace van Ruith
- Horace van Ruith
- Untitled (A Brahmin Household)
- Signed 'HORACE VAN RUITH' Bombay' lower left
- Oil on canvas
Acquired from the above circa 2015
The current painting depicts a Brahmin household in casual repose within their own dwelling. Using the courtyard to add tranquility to the setting, Horace van Ruith brilliantly captures the character of each family member within the rustic decor of the space. Brahmin families are from the highest Hindu priestly caste and were traditionally responsible for teaching and maintaining sacred knowledge and for conducting religious rituals and ceremonies in temples in the community. As a result, they were often well respected and their lives were of significant interest. Here, van Ruith is portraying an intimate family moment, where amidst the serenity of one's home, everyday life is exposed; the mother ushering her child along with ornaments for worship, the young boy leaning against the pillar in a moment of contemplation, the seated men in relaxed chatter and a priest quietly meditating. Moreover, the scene is strewn with interesting objects such as food platters, copper vessels, literature scripts and metallic bells giving the painting a tangible presence. van Ruith specialized in landscapes, genre scenes and portraiture in both oil and watercolor. Although he was born in Capri, he subsequently settled in England, after spending several years working in Italy. He visited Bombay during the early 1880s and established a studio there, where this work was made. His paintings on India mostly portrayed the local people and captured their daily lives, from leisure activities to various trades.
In 1886, upon his return to London, he partook in the Colonial and Indian Exhibition opened by Queen Victoria where he displayed a number of paintings with similar subjects. Her son, the Duke of Connaught, wrote of van Ruith in a letter to the Queen, stating that 'no man understands the peculiar characteristics of Indian life better than he does and he is a very clever artist.' (P. Rohatgi, P. Godrej and R. Mehrotra, Bombay to Mumbai: Changing Perspectives, Marg Publications, Mumbai, 1997, p. 153) Indeed the present painting attests to the artist's technical mastery of realism as well as his skill in capturing his sitters’ emotional state as evidenced by the variation within the family’s expressions. van Ruith is known to have traveled to India again at the turn of the century, working in Baroda at the invitation of His Highness, The Gaekwad of Baroda. In spite of his long life and extensive oeuvre, his paintings are rare and seldom appear on the market.