Kalighat Patachitra: OUR TOP PICKS

1. ‘Lady Combing Hair’, 1920s, Watercolour on paper, 19 x 14 inches

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This iconic composition is one that has inspired generations of Bengali Artists including Jamini Roy. Theatre actresses and heroines of that time were represented in all their glory by the Kalighat painters. We particular love the voluptuous curves, the dreamy eyes and the detailed accessories of this beautiful lady –  and who doesn’t love a deep red sari?

2. ‘British Couple Having Tea’, ‘Royal Couple Smoking’, 1920s, Watercolour on paper, 16 x 12 inches

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Both these works throw light on the rise of the ‘Babu Culture’ which was a by-product of the British Administrative System. It shows the rise of the upwardly mobile Bengali to be close to the British colonial settlers and to distance themselves from the local lower and middle classes. We love the background scenery mimicking a photo studio – Victorian furniture, fancy attire and new emblems such as smoking pipes.

3. ‘Nati’,  1920s, Watercolour on paper, 16 x 12 inches

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This is a frozen moment capturing a highly symbolic gesture of a courtesan or actress in her contrived posture with her fixed seductive gazes. The artist here working more in the style of standing behind a camera rather than an easel has much to do with creating the female image as an object of desire, a phenomenon heightened again by the rise of the babu culture that patronised courtesans and actresses as mistresses.

4. ‘Dancing Shakti’, 1920s, Watercolour on paper, 16 x 13 inches

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This unusual piece depicts Goddess Shakti, an incarnation of Kali. During the early 19th century only Kalighat paintings offered comprehensive illustrations of the iconography of virtually all the Hindu gods and goddesses, including their incarnations and alternative forms. In this image her long ragged and striking black hair, supple dance movements and bold strokes representing her attire combined with an alluring beautiful face takes her into our top five.

5. ‘Babu, Bibi, Nati’, 1920s, Watercolour on paper, 12 x 9 inches

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This work illustrates how Kalighat painters not only became the first contemporaries of Indian Art but anticipated the popular culture of the 20th Century that was to follow. Scandalous affairs intertwined with jealousy, conspiracy and murder were depicted by artists who consciously mixed up fact and fiction depending upon the moral position adopted by newspaper reports and theatre performances.

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