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Books > Art and Architecture > Nainsukh of Guler – A Great Indian Painter from a Small Hill-State
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Nainsukh of Guler – A Great Indian Painter from a Small Hill-State
Nainsukh of Guler – A Great Indian Painter from a Small Hill-State
Description
From the Jacket

“To trace the life and career of a painter (of the past) in India is”, as the author says, “somewhat akin to following the course of an earthen lamp on swift waters.” The glow is bright and warm, and one can keep it within sight for a while, but things can quickly turn and uncharted vastness takes over.

However, knowing this and going against the prevailing (perhaps even comfortable) state of anonymity that is almost a defining condition of the arts in India, this books concerns itself with simply one painter: Nainsukh. The glow that comes from his work is remarkably bright and warm, and tracing its course, however briefly, yields a very special pleasure. Born ca. 1710 to a family of painters in Guler, a small and little known state now merged in Himachal Pradesh, Nainsukh attached himself for the greater part of his career to an equally little known prince of Jasrota, Balwant Singh. From that obscure corner of the hills, through the coming together of a discriminating patron — a true connoisseur — and a painter of genius, emerged a body of work that is compelling: startling in its freshness and heart-warming in its humanity.

In this book, which is the result of painstaking research spread over many years, Professor B.N. Goswamy has brought together all of Nainsukh’s known or ascribable oeuvre: close to a hundred paintings, painted sketches, and drawings which contain the first flush of his thoughts. Nainsukh of Guler is perhaps the first ever book to appear on a traditional painter of the past in India. It is a path-breaking work: illuminating in its scholarship and written in a flowing, almost poetic style. Justly, it has received world-wide notice, and has attained the status of a classic.

About the Author

B.N. Goswamy, distinguished art historian, is Professor Emeritus of Art History at the Panjab University, Chandigarh. His work covers a wide range and is regarded, especially in the area of Indian painting, as having influenced much thinking. He has been the recipient of many honours, including the Jawaharlal Nehru Fellowship, the Rietberg Award for Outstanding Research in Art History, the Padma Shri (1998) and the Padma Bhushan (2008) from the President of India. Professor Goswamy has taught, as Visiting Professor, at several universities across the world, among them the Universities of Pennsylvania, Heidelberg, California (at Berkeley and Los Angeles), Texas (at Austin), Zurich, and the ETH (Federal University) at Zurich. He has also been responsible for major exhibitions of Indian art at Paris, San Francisco, Zurich, San Diego, New York and New Delhi.

Among his many publications are: Pahari Painting: The Family as the Basis of Style (Marg, Bombay, 1968); Painters at the Sikh Court Wiesbaden, 1975), Essence of Indian Art (San Francisco, 1986); Wonders of a Golden Age: Painting at the Court of the Great Mughals (with E. Fischer, Zurich, 1987); Pahari Masters: Court Painters of Northern India (with E. Fischer; Zurich, 1992); Indian Costumes in the Collection of the Calico Museum of Textiles (Ahmedabad, 1993); Painted Visions: The Goenka Collection of Indian Paintings (New Delhi, 1999); Piety and Splendour: Sikh Heritage in Art (New Delhi, 2000); Domains of Wonder: Selected Masterworks of Indian Painting from the Edwin Binney Collection (with Caron Smith; San Diego, 2005); I See No Stranger: Early Sikh Art and Devotion (with Caron Smith; New York, 2006); The Word is Sacred; Sacred is The Word: The Indian Manuscript Tradition (New Delhi, 2006), and Indian Paintings in the Sarabhai Foundation (Ahmedabad, 2010).

About this Book

At Haridwar, where the Ganga descends from the mountains into the plains and begins its majestic journey towards the sea a long, long way off, every evening devotees light simple earthen lamps, place them on small platters of leaves along with some flowers and, standing on the long brick steps on the bank, release them gently on the surface of the sacred waters. The lamps float steadily at first and then, when the current takes them over and sweeps them along towards the middle of the river, they begin to dip and toss as they join countless others, similarly released by other hands from those very banks. It is a magnificent sight. The night becomes filled with sounds and silences and the stars of lamp-light. But, in a sense, one can take in the scene only as a whole: to follow the course of a single lamp on those waters is almost impossible, for everything shifts, eddies form; objects become obscured from view and merge with others, and then they disappear.

To trace the life and career of a painter in India is somewhat akin to following the course of an earthen lamp on swift waters. The glow is bright and warm, and one can keep it within sight for a while, but quickly things turn and uncharted vastness takes over.

If, then, knowing this and going against the prevailing (perhaps even comfortable) state of anonymity that is almost a defining condition of the arts of India, this book concerns itself with one individual painter, Nainsukh, it is because the glow that comes from him is remarkably bright and warm, and tracing its course, however briefly, yields a very special pleasure. Doing this also raises the hope that other bright lights will similarly be followed — by others. Nothing like this has been done before, and doing it is not simple. But that moves like this can be made was shown not long ago in Goswamy and Fischer, Pahari Masters: Court Painters of Northern India (Zurich, 1992). Evidently, much more needs to be done yet.

A book like this is, inevitably perhaps, long in the making, for gathering information is not easy. One picks up a thread and tries to follow it through, sometimes for years; a clue suddenly glints in the sun like some ancient coin revealed on an earthen mound after a downpour, but the site yields little else; one pursues them, but the leaves of hints are driven by too strong a wind. The search for Nainsukh, and concomitantly for his best-known patron, Balwant Singh, has taken me to unlikely places and an unlikely number of years. A part of that story has already been told elsewhere, but a few things stand out and have stayed vividly in my memory. Perhaps they need to be retold, for the book needs to be placed in context.

My awareness of Nainsukh as a painter of uncommon talent goes back to the time when I was still doing my doctoral work, but my acquaintance with him dates only from 1962. I was on a brief visit to London then and, going through the galleries of the Victoria and Albert Museum, followed an impulse and went into the office of the then Keeper of Indian Art, Mr W.G. Archer, whom I knew only from his distinguished writing on Pahari painting. I introduced myself as ‘the candidate’ whose doctoral work he had commended a year before when asked to examine it by my university in India. Mr Archer was at once warm and interested, and invited me to his home the same evening. Both he and his wife were gracious in the extreme, and I spent wonderful hours, talking about the hills that interested us both, his experiences of India, my work and my involvement with the society that had produced the art that we both so evidently liked. Suddenly, Mr Archer asked me if I could read the script of the hills, Takri. It is among the most challenging of scripts. But I was acquainted with it, even though I had not put my knowledge to any special use until then. Seeing me hesitate a little, Mr Archer pulled out a photograph of a painting in the Lahore Museum that we all know well by now, a prince listening to music, which had a long two-line inscription in Takri on the top. The inscription had been read by B.Ch. Chhabra some years earlier, but apparently not fully read, and certainly not published in extensor. He wondered if would like to try my hand at deciphering it.

I agreed, took the photograph home, pored over the inscription for some hours, and was ready with my reading of it by the next morning. I was to call him if I was successful, “as soon as possible”, and I did that from the British Library where I was engaged in some work: I still remember the phone booth that I spoke to him from. There was excitement in his voice, and mine, as we spoke over the telephone. I told him that everything in that inscription had been successfully deciphered, but that it could not be fully communicated without our sitting together and my going over it word by word and phrase by phrase. He invited me to his Provost Road home again that evening, and we sat down to the task. Patiently, both he and I went over the two-line text, and what it was possibly telling us. There they were, things that he alone until that point, not I, was struggling with: the name of Nainsukh; the place where the picture was painted, Jasrota; the name of Balwant Singh and his age at that time; the month and the year; the reference to an event beyond the region of the hills; and the refrain of a song that the singer in the painting was apparently singing. There was to be much celebration of this reading, for everything seemed to make sense; all that was obscure had been cleared up. He was especially interested in what the inscription said about Balwant Singh, and his age, and was to refer to my reading again and again in his subsequent writing. Between us a bond of friendship was forged, and it was a Nainsukh inscription that had done it. Many years later, sadly, there was to be serious disagreement between him and me not only about the identity of Balwant Singh but about how styles needed to be viewed in the Indian context of family workshops. There were reservations and, sadly, a certain parting of our ways. But, at that moment and for several years that followed, a sun shone upon our friendship. I remember that with great warmth.

I had not yet seriously embarked upon a specific search for Nainsukh but I was feverishly into doing fieldwork when I returned to India the following year, trying to locate painters and every scrap of information that I could get on them. There were many journeys, many places, many persons that became part of my life in the next few years. I recall the day when, in the course of a visit to the little village home of the painter Chandulal Raina, descended from Nainsukh, at Gaggal near Rajaul, among the joint family’s papers, I chanced upon a large folded sheet of paper that he said had been in the family ‘for a long, long time”. As he spread it out on the mud-plastered floor of the family courtyard, and slowly took it in, I was tilled with great puzzlement. It was a painted image of a determined-looking goddess with an uneven number of arms that fanned out, straight or bent, in all directions; the hands seemed generally to point towards some writing within rough circles, names of states and some individuals, all inscribed in Takri. An ‘iconic’ figure like this, apparently unrelated to the usual range of Pahari paintings, would have been at home in a temple, but here it was. in a painters’ family, preserved for generations because evidently relevant. Chandulal and his cousins were unable to read the text or the sub-text of this mysterious, wonderfully energetic work, but I felt the stirrings of excitement within myself. I was to devote much time to the drawing, trying to make sense of it, and, when I thought I had its meaning, to publish it as a ‘magic diagram’ that charted the course of the spread of the style of this family of painters, based at Guler and descended from Pandit Seu and Nainsukh. This diagram was to become the clue witch led to an understanding. at least my understanding, of the way styles worked within the hills, and to working out a paradigm in Indian art which differed from the one which everyone else worked with and took as inevitable then.

When my quest for the painters of the hills took me to different places of pilgrimage in northern India— Kurukshetra, Pehowa, Haridwar, Kangra, Jwalamukhi, Martand, Benares, Allahabad, Gaya, Pun, among them — for consulting the records that the panda- priests kept of all their clients’, I began to document all that came my way concerning the painters. Several families of painters showed up in these records, as did a host of names and dates: I was shoring up information that belonged to families based at Guler and Nurpur and Chamba and Kangra town, and at little places where further branches of the families had settled. On Nainsukh’s family much information had turned up at Kurukshetra and Pehowa, where the priests were particularly helpful and cooperative. At Haridwar, where the records relating to pilgrims are the most extensive and perhaps best kept, I was able in 1964 to locate, with a measure of difficulty, a large number of entries relating to the extended painters’ family descended from Pandit Seu. There were references to Nainsukh, but nothing directly on him; I had seen original entries, abstracts of entries, prudently-made copies of entries. But, disappointingly, Nainsukh himself was silent in these pages. I had nearly given up when, one evening when the light in the sky was beginning to fade, a priest whom I had contacted earlier and from whom I had drawn a blank, turned up at the little guest- house where I was staying at Haridwar. He had something carefully wrapped tucked under his arm which, after ascertaining that I was truly pursuing the Guler family of painters, he placed on a little stool by my side. As I unwrapped it, I saw a bahi-register. It related to the town of Guler: the priest did not know if the painters that I was looking for figured in it, but it was an “asa/ bahi”, he said, and if there was any record left by them it should be in this volume, It was not explained to me fully why there was some secretiveness about this whole matter — litigation surrounding rights of priesthood could have been involved; the register may have been sub-judice; division of family property which covered old records could well have been the cause — but I was given the opportunity to leaf through its pages.

I could barely conceal my excitement and anticipation as I began with some haste, for there was not going to be enough time, to turn leaf after leaf. Several things flashed by: records of visits by members of the royal family, some original pattas stuck on to pages, entries relating to families of Rajputs and goldsmiths, things that (could not linger over. And then, as I turned a leaf, there it suddenly was: a dated entry in Nainsukh’s own hand, ten lines of elegantly written Devanagari, packed with information about him and his family, and topped by an exquisite little drawing on the same page, of the descent of Ganga made by him when he was there in the Vikrami Samvat 1820 (AD. 1763). Disbelief preceded my sense of exultation. As I took in all the information and what it was pointing towards, I saw other things: notes about what had ‘occasioned’ his visit, brief entries relating to visits by his sons and nephews, a drawing by Kushala, a note relating to his own ashes being brought to Haridwar in A.D. 1778 by his nephew, Fattu, and second son Gaudhu, all on the same page. In the same register was a brief entry in the hand of Manaku, Nainsukh’s elder brother, dating to A.D. 1736, and equally brief notes by two paintercousins, GwaI and Punnu. I took some hazy photographs and made copies of the entries in my own hand. I have returned to Haridwar more than once since then, but that register was never to turn up again (barring one brief occasion when a friend was able fortunately to photograph for me Nainsukh’s own entry). That evening, when I ‘heard’ Nainsukh speak about himself through that page in the priest’s bahi-register, has left an imprint. Few other painters of the past have spoken like this in India, with such bell-like clarity.

This is the way it has proceeded for years. The trail goes cold; suddenly, there is a chance discovery; when that is sought to be followed up, silence, once again, takes over. A painting like the one in which Nainsukh shows himself with Balwant Singh disappears from sight and then surfaces again, after more than thirty years; the scroll where Nainsukh shows Balwant Singh proceeding towards the sacred grove of the goddess Aparajita turns up in a group of works that have remained unnoticed and unaccessioned for years, but the work is a fragment, cut off at the right end where the goddess presumably shows herself; the first part of the same scroll is located nearly twenty-five years later, in another museum, again unnoticed and unidentified, coming to light only because I follow a hunch and persist with it; a random scanning through the files of Sotheby’s catalogues at Ann Arbor leads to the hitherto unknown record of the sale in 1931 of the largest group of Nainsukhs ever sold; when met in 1969, Thakur Rattan Singh, descended from Nainsukh’s patron, Balwant Singh of Jasrota, pulls out a notebook in which he has entered the reconstructed genealogy of his family, which he routinely carries with him wherever he goes. And so on. It is as if nothing is to be revealed at once, and what is revealed is revealed only partially. Tracking down Nainsukb and his work has been like recovering elusive images from aging film emulsions.

Elusive as they are, however, these images are worth recovering. For there are few painters who come even close to Nainsukh if one thinks not only of what they did themselves but also of what their work led to, the influence that they have wielded on the generations that came after them. Nainsukh did all manner of work: he left behind portraits, court scenes, elaborate compositions with scenes of hunt and riding picnics and soirees, iconic images, renderings of musical themes; finished paintings, painted sketches, tinted drawings, the barest outlines of the first flush of thought; he worked with brush and reed-pen; used thin washes of pigment or richly saturated colours; drew in black or sepia or vermilion; surrounded his paintings with the most exquisitely painted margins or left them bare, without a trace of limiting line or border, as if asking them to go out into the world and stand on their own. But whatever he did he managed almost instinctively to invest with great elegance and sense of classical balance. In his work, there is understatement, a noble holding back, which takes one completely by surprise and makes an image stay, languidly and long, in one’s awareness.

Nainsukh’s style, and sense of style, are spoken of at some length in the body of this work, but it may be of interest here to look with some care at just one of his works to pick up the levels of subtlety he was able to attain. It is a simple, unpretentiously painted sketch showing a small, almost domestic-looking shrine in which an iconic image of Vishnu is installed; two men are seen seated, one with his back turned towards us, and the other a priest holding up a folio of a manuscript from which he is reading. There are small inelegant looking inscriptions — not in Nainsukh’s hand but in some former owner’s — which identify the place and the persons for us. The shrine, the inscriptions tell us, is the thakurdwara, literally ‘Vishnu’s abode’, at Jasrota; the priest reading from the folio is Pandit Han Saran, and the man seated on the floor with only his back visible here is Balwant Singh Jasrotia. From other sources we know the place; we also know Balwant Singh well, the prince who was Nainsukh’s patron; and Han Saran, the pandit who served the family. Nothing is overtly stated but, from a reconstruction of events in the life of Nainsukh’s prince, one guesses that what the painter shows here is a solemn, intensely private moment, some kind of leave-taking of his deity by the prince who had to leave his home in Jasrota and go into exile in hurried, unhappy circumstances. We are provided with a hint by Nainsukh, for on the small folio held by the pandit he inscribes minute characters in his own fine hand, a complete sh/oka-verse in Sanskrit taken from a celebrated text: “When a secret (literally, mantra) is shared by three pairs of ears, it is all but pierced; between two pairs of ears it can stay secure; but when it belongs to just one pair of ears, even Brahma is unable to fathom it.” The verse begins to work on us, and distant, mysterious thoughts take form in the mind: of inner struggles and hushed silences and betrayed secrets.

It is in secret perhaps that the prince has to leave; he cannot leave without paying homage to his /shta-deity, possibly a ritual needs to be performed before departure; a confidence has to be shared with the family pandit. One is obviously in the domain of surmise, and it is possible that one could be over-reading the painting and these thoughts are extraneous to it. But then what is the point of that shloka-verse written with obvious effort on that folio, and why, one wonders, do we see the prince here only from the back, something that we never do in the entire range of paintings that centre on him? One can be certain that something is going on, that it is a special moment. One takes in the way Nainsukh sets out the scene: the image of Vishnu, dark-skinned, yellow-clad, flower-bedecked, rendered frontally, unmoving, all-seeing; the simply-dressed pandit seen in profile, tense, staring gravely into space rather than reading; the prince seated like a devotee, completely wrapped in a shawl, and identifiable only through the inscription and the princely black plume that juts out above his head, face turned from us to make sure that no emotion shows on it. The spaces are clearly defined: the raised niche in which the icon is placed; the confined area of the sanctum within which the pandit is seated; this inner space, carefully framed and placed well above the floor on which the prince, outside it, is seated. The night is indicated by the two tall lamps that burn steadily on either side ct the central niche; there are other unseen images in two partially seen niches; remarkably little colour is used but for the skin and garment of Vishnu, the frame of the sanctum, the embroidered pattern on the prince’s shawl and his lower garment; elegant curves are contrasted with uncompromising straight lines. And it is all rendered with that wonderfully supple line that Nainsukh always knew how to use and bend to his purpose. It is a quiet, whispered work, spacious and uncluttered, hauntingly understated, at once simple and complex, ‘as light as a feather and as powerful as flight’.

Work such as this needs to be seen with that lingering care which all great art demands. And if it soothes, despite all the thoughts that it might raise, it is because he is able to invest it with those indefinable qualities of order and restfulness.

In this study I have endeavoured to bring in all the works known to be Nainsukh’s, and all that I believe to be attributable to him. Nothing can be finally known, and no indisputable statements can be made. It is particularly difficult to be emphatic about the over of any artist as innovative, as full of mercurial wit, as fond of experimentation until the end of his days as Nainsukh was — he took swift turns and entered unknown terrains — and it is just possible that more will be known of him, and his work, as time goes by. But, until then, what is here is what seems to have survived of his work. There is bound to be disagreement. All that I can do is to say that what is included in, and left out of, this book — there is both more here, and less, than some other scholars would believe to be his — reflects not caprice but reasoned judgement based on years of trying to get to know Nainsukh and his modes of work and thought. Or to recall that moment years ago when I picked the painted sketch of the thakurdwara at Jasrota that I have just described from a pile of ‘unimportant material’ in the Bharat Kala Bhavan at Benares, and took it to its Director, that great and wonderful knower’ of paintings, Rai Krishnadas. ‘Rai Sahib’, as we used to call him, looked at the work with great care and interest, and we spoke of it for a long time. He was obviously excited by this discovery in his own museum, asked me to read for him what the Takri inscription on the folio held by the pandit said. After I had done that, he referred me in turn to the Sanskrit text from which it was taken, the famous Chanakyaniti. Then, in complete agreement with my seeing the work as a Nainsukh, he leaned back, fixed me with his gaze, and simply said: To ab Nainsukh aap ki ankhon men bas gaya hai [“Now, Nainsukh has taken hold of your eyes”]. I would like to believe that he was right.

Some words about how the material in this book is organized, and about the approach I have taken, may be of some use. The ninety-nine works that I include here — one must always remind oneself that these can only represent a very small fragment of what he must actually have drawn and painted in his lifetime — I see as spread unevenly over three periods: Early, Middle and Late. The first covers the years 1730 to 1740, the second those between 1740 and 1760, and the last the years from 1760 to about 1775, close to his death. In the Early period are placed, apart from his self portrait and the portraits of the senior members of his family, works that are based on Mughal models, are possessed of a Mughal aura, or seek to come to terms with that naturalism’ which he was to make his own even while locating himself within his own tradition. Some studies of the members of the Jasrota royal family, early reaching out to potential patrons, also fall within this period. The work of the Middle period, easily his most securely identifiable phase — for in it his prince, Balwant Singh of Jasrota, figures most prominently — arranges itself in a manner of speaking, for one traces in it the course of a life, with attendant evidence of age, circumstance, and surrounding cast of characters affording help. There is constant experimentation, a pressing against the limits, even while his subjects remain much the same, perhaps predictable. The Late phase of Nainsukh’s work, however, sees a true opening out, a breaking free on the one hand into a range of themes that are old but treated with a dewy freshness and, on the other, into different territory where lessons learnt early on are summoned to the mind and — as I see it — daring stylistic forays are made. Under a different patron, and with time bearing heavily upon him, Nainsukh plans and partly executes whole series: a Ragamala, Gita Govinda, possibly a Bihari Satsai, even as he views things around himself with supreme calm. His interest in the present seems to all but decline and his mind centres upon seeing with his own eyes a vision that others before him had seen in their own ways.

To return to the organization of this book: any study of Nainsukh bristles with controversies but, aware that these are only of marginal interest to most people, I have split the book into three parts. The first, “Nainsukh: The Painter and His Work” offers a reconstruction, in the way I see it, of his life, work and style, in different sections. There are no elaborate discussions in it of disagreements and differing points of view, only a brief notice of them when absolutely necessary. The second part consists of a catalogue, in which is reproduced every work that I believe to be Nainsukh’s, together with detailed notes on each work. Persuaded as I am that somehow our enjoyment of Nainsukh’s work is hampered by the shadow that falls on it of discussions about whether he worked at this place or that, or for this patron or another, I have split these notes too into two parts: first, an analysis of the work and the meaning it possesses or the feeling it evokes; and then, in smaller print, a discussion of matters on which there are disagreements, or which could be of only limited interest. The third part of the book, “Nainsukh: The Scholars and Their Arguments” presents, as the title suggests, aspects of the life and work of Nainsukh, especially the question of the identity of his patron, Balwant Singh. There Is close argument in this part about sales and inscriptions and identities, and much contentious detail. To this section only the reader who wishes to enter this thorny field needs to go.

Finally, this book is perhaps best read together with Pahari Masters (Zurich, 1992) in which an approach to viewing the work of individual masters was established and where much material relating to the work of other members of Nainsukh’s family, material that is almost crucial to understanding him and his place, is published.

Acknowledging debts, and the countless kindnesses received in the course of one’s work, is not easy, for words sometimes do not reach far or deep enough. But, with gratitude, I think at this point of the members of my family — my wife Karuna, and our children, Apurva and Malavika — who have each in his or her own manner ‘lived’ with Nainsukh uncomplainingly over the years and stood by me as only family can, through days both rough and smooth. I think also of many senior friends and colleagues who, despite disagreements sometimes, inspired and supported the work that I was doing:

Rai Krishnadasa, WG. and Mildred Archer, M.S. Randhawa, Karl Khandalavala, and Mulk Raj Anand, among them. And I think of Eberhard and Barbara Fischer whose friendship sustained me through some difficult times and whose vision has succeeded in turning, with quiet warmth, what might have remained a distant dream into a reality.

In bringing together the material that is presented in this book, I have drawn upon a large number of collections, including those in the Government Museum and Art Gallery, Chandigarh; the Victoria & Albert Museum, London; the Prince of Wales Museum, Bombay; the Indian Museum, Calcutta; the National Museum, New Delhi; the British Museum, London; the Sharat Kala Bhavan, Varanasi; the Museum Rietberg, Zurich; the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Sarabhai Foundation, Ahmedabad; the Fogg Art Museum, University of Harvard; the Museum für Indische Kunst, Berlin; the Central Museum, Lahore; the National Museum of Pakistan, Karachi; and the Jagdish and Kamla Mittal Museum of Indian Art, Hyderabad.

To these institutions which made it possible for me to see and publish the works reproduced here, my grateful thanks are due, as they are to so many persons who own, or owned in the past, works by Nainsukh and who, in the very act of generously sharing them with me, often turned into friends: among them, W,G. and Mildred Archer, Karl and Mehri Khandalavala; W.B. Manley, George Bickford, John and Helen Bachofen von Echt, William Ehrenfeld, James Ivory, Sven Gahlin, Gopi Krishna and Vinod Kanoria, Jagdish and Kamla Mittal, BK. and Sarla Birla, Jehangir H.C. Jehangir, Nona and Jyoti Datta, Cynthia Polsky, Mark Zebrowski, Alvin Bellak, Danielle Porret, Marcelle Reinhart, and the successors of Charles Roberts. Associated with the institutions mentioned is also the kindness of many who headed them or manned the collections, among others: Robert Skelton, Betty Tyers, Debbie Swallow, C. Sivaramamurti, N.R. Banerjee, R.C. Sharma, O.R Sharma, C.M. Sahay, Daljeet Khare, Sushil Sarkar, VN. Singh, Suwarcha Paul, Poonam Khanna, Sadashiv Gorakshakar, Kalpana Desai, Shipra Chakravarty, Anand Krishna, Sarla Chopra, Vishakha Desai, Marianne Yaldiz, Richard Blurton, David Serase. If I mention these names, as also many others that follow, in a familiar fashion, I hope that it will be seen not as lack of respect but as indication of the closeness one feels when working with colleagues.

In the course of the fieldwork that has gone into this study of Nainsukh, I drew once again upon the kindness of people, too many to list here, but especially of: Pandits Han Bilas, Madan Mohan and Ram Bahadur of Kurukshetra; Sardar Ram Kumar, and Pandits Shiv Kumar, Gopichand, Gangaram Bhagwandas, and Pyarelal of Haridwar; Pandits Gajanan, Baburam Jogindernath, Mam Raj of Pehowa; Pandits Parmanand Nanakchand of Martand; Pandits Shashi Bhushan and Ishwari Prasad of Jwalamukhi; Thakur Luddar Singh Jamwal and Patwari Mohan Singh of Suruinsar; Thakur Rattan Singh Jasrotia of Lanj-Ambi Ghar; Thakur Bidhi Singh Jasrotia of Dhanotu; Thakur Ram Singh and Purohit Basdu Ram of Bandrela; above all, Chandulal Raina of Rajol and his family. Mr Ashwini Kumar, Mr and Mrs Han Datt, Thakur Gangbir Singh, Prof. IN. Chaudhary, Prof. Harsharan Singh, and Mr SN. Verma made, at an early point of time, the carrying out of demanding fieldwork possible in many thoughtful ways.

I also wish to acknowledge, with warmth and gratitude, the friendship and the support of ES. Aijazuddin, Milo C. Beach, Usha Bhatia, Charles Blitzer, Pramod Chandra, Pierre Combernous, Stan Czuma, Vidya Dehejia, Saryu Doshi, Ray Lewis, D.S. Malhotra, Porter McCray, VC. Chri, Pratapaditya Pal, Dinanath Pathy, Radhika Sabavala, Gira Sarabhai, Gautam Sarabhai, Philippa Vaughan, Paul Walter, Joanna Williams, Jean- Pierre and Dorothee Zehnder The latter part of my work was done in Zurich and it was made possible by the friendliness and the remarkable abilities that Andrea Kuprecht brought to her many tasks. My friends UIrlch Albers, Ursula Dohrn, Barbara and Eberhard Fischer, Hans-Rudolf and Ruth Rahn, and Balthasar and Nanni Reinhart supported the printing of this book, and I am thankful for their generosity. I also received help, in more ways than can be recounted here, from Lucy Rudolph, Georgette Boner, Lydia Lehmann, Lorenz and Annemarie Homberger, Suzanne Scheitlin, Kurt and Kati Spillmann, Isabelle Wettstein, Brigitte Kammerer, Monica Stocker, and Fred Bauer. I am conscious of these kindnesses, and grateful.

Contents

About this Book 9
The painter and his work 17
Catalogue
Early Period 1730-1740 47
Middle Period 1740-1760 85
Late Period 1760-1775 217
The scholars and their arguments
On how and when Nainsukh’s works came to light 253
On the identity of Nainsukh’s patron, Balwant Singh 259
On the inscriptions on Nainsukh’s work 285
Genealogical table of the Seu-family 296
Inscriptions 267
Bibliography 301

Nainsukh of Guler – A Great Indian Painter from a Small Hill-State

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2011
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From the Jacket

“To trace the life and career of a painter (of the past) in India is”, as the author says, “somewhat akin to following the course of an earthen lamp on swift waters.” The glow is bright and warm, and one can keep it within sight for a while, but things can quickly turn and uncharted vastness takes over.

However, knowing this and going against the prevailing (perhaps even comfortable) state of anonymity that is almost a defining condition of the arts in India, this books concerns itself with simply one painter: Nainsukh. The glow that comes from his work is remarkably bright and warm, and tracing its course, however briefly, yields a very special pleasure. Born ca. 1710 to a family of painters in Guler, a small and little known state now merged in Himachal Pradesh, Nainsukh attached himself for the greater part of his career to an equally little known prince of Jasrota, Balwant Singh. From that obscure corner of the hills, through the coming together of a discriminating patron — a true connoisseur — and a painter of genius, emerged a body of work that is compelling: startling in its freshness and heart-warming in its humanity.

In this book, which is the result of painstaking research spread over many years, Professor B.N. Goswamy has brought together all of Nainsukh’s known or ascribable oeuvre: close to a hundred paintings, painted sketches, and drawings which contain the first flush of his thoughts. Nainsukh of Guler is perhaps the first ever book to appear on a traditional painter of the past in India. It is a path-breaking work: illuminating in its scholarship and written in a flowing, almost poetic style. Justly, it has received world-wide notice, and has attained the status of a classic.

About the Author

B.N. Goswamy, distinguished art historian, is Professor Emeritus of Art History at the Panjab University, Chandigarh. His work covers a wide range and is regarded, especially in the area of Indian painting, as having influenced much thinking. He has been the recipient of many honours, including the Jawaharlal Nehru Fellowship, the Rietberg Award for Outstanding Research in Art History, the Padma Shri (1998) and the Padma Bhushan (2008) from the President of India. Professor Goswamy has taught, as Visiting Professor, at several universities across the world, among them the Universities of Pennsylvania, Heidelberg, California (at Berkeley and Los Angeles), Texas (at Austin), Zurich, and the ETH (Federal University) at Zurich. He has also been responsible for major exhibitions of Indian art at Paris, San Francisco, Zurich, San Diego, New York and New Delhi.

Among his many publications are: Pahari Painting: The Family as the Basis of Style (Marg, Bombay, 1968); Painters at the Sikh Court Wiesbaden, 1975), Essence of Indian Art (San Francisco, 1986); Wonders of a Golden Age: Painting at the Court of the Great Mughals (with E. Fischer, Zurich, 1987); Pahari Masters: Court Painters of Northern India (with E. Fischer; Zurich, 1992); Indian Costumes in the Collection of the Calico Museum of Textiles (Ahmedabad, 1993); Painted Visions: The Goenka Collection of Indian Paintings (New Delhi, 1999); Piety and Splendour: Sikh Heritage in Art (New Delhi, 2000); Domains of Wonder: Selected Masterworks of Indian Painting from the Edwin Binney Collection (with Caron Smith; San Diego, 2005); I See No Stranger: Early Sikh Art and Devotion (with Caron Smith; New York, 2006); The Word is Sacred; Sacred is The Word: The Indian Manuscript Tradition (New Delhi, 2006), and Indian Paintings in the Sarabhai Foundation (Ahmedabad, 2010).

About this Book

At Haridwar, where the Ganga descends from the mountains into the plains and begins its majestic journey towards the sea a long, long way off, every evening devotees light simple earthen lamps, place them on small platters of leaves along with some flowers and, standing on the long brick steps on the bank, release them gently on the surface of the sacred waters. The lamps float steadily at first and then, when the current takes them over and sweeps them along towards the middle of the river, they begin to dip and toss as they join countless others, similarly released by other hands from those very banks. It is a magnificent sight. The night becomes filled with sounds and silences and the stars of lamp-light. But, in a sense, one can take in the scene only as a whole: to follow the course of a single lamp on those waters is almost impossible, for everything shifts, eddies form; objects become obscured from view and merge with others, and then they disappear.

To trace the life and career of a painter in India is somewhat akin to following the course of an earthen lamp on swift waters. The glow is bright and warm, and one can keep it within sight for a while, but quickly things turn and uncharted vastness takes over.

If, then, knowing this and going against the prevailing (perhaps even comfortable) state of anonymity that is almost a defining condition of the arts of India, this book concerns itself with one individual painter, Nainsukh, it is because the glow that comes from him is remarkably bright and warm, and tracing its course, however briefly, yields a very special pleasure. Doing this also raises the hope that other bright lights will similarly be followed — by others. Nothing like this has been done before, and doing it is not simple. But that moves like this can be made was shown not long ago in Goswamy and Fischer, Pahari Masters: Court Painters of Northern India (Zurich, 1992). Evidently, much more needs to be done yet.

A book like this is, inevitably perhaps, long in the making, for gathering information is not easy. One picks up a thread and tries to follow it through, sometimes for years; a clue suddenly glints in the sun like some ancient coin revealed on an earthen mound after a downpour, but the site yields little else; one pursues them, but the leaves of hints are driven by too strong a wind. The search for Nainsukh, and concomitantly for his best-known patron, Balwant Singh, has taken me to unlikely places and an unlikely number of years. A part of that story has already been told elsewhere, but a few things stand out and have stayed vividly in my memory. Perhaps they need to be retold, for the book needs to be placed in context.

My awareness of Nainsukh as a painter of uncommon talent goes back to the time when I was still doing my doctoral work, but my acquaintance with him dates only from 1962. I was on a brief visit to London then and, going through the galleries of the Victoria and Albert Museum, followed an impulse and went into the office of the then Keeper of Indian Art, Mr W.G. Archer, whom I knew only from his distinguished writing on Pahari painting. I introduced myself as ‘the candidate’ whose doctoral work he had commended a year before when asked to examine it by my university in India. Mr Archer was at once warm and interested, and invited me to his home the same evening. Both he and his wife were gracious in the extreme, and I spent wonderful hours, talking about the hills that interested us both, his experiences of India, my work and my involvement with the society that had produced the art that we both so evidently liked. Suddenly, Mr Archer asked me if I could read the script of the hills, Takri. It is among the most challenging of scripts. But I was acquainted with it, even though I had not put my knowledge to any special use until then. Seeing me hesitate a little, Mr Archer pulled out a photograph of a painting in the Lahore Museum that we all know well by now, a prince listening to music, which had a long two-line inscription in Takri on the top. The inscription had been read by B.Ch. Chhabra some years earlier, but apparently not fully read, and certainly not published in extensor. He wondered if would like to try my hand at deciphering it.

I agreed, took the photograph home, pored over the inscription for some hours, and was ready with my reading of it by the next morning. I was to call him if I was successful, “as soon as possible”, and I did that from the British Library where I was engaged in some work: I still remember the phone booth that I spoke to him from. There was excitement in his voice, and mine, as we spoke over the telephone. I told him that everything in that inscription had been successfully deciphered, but that it could not be fully communicated without our sitting together and my going over it word by word and phrase by phrase. He invited me to his Provost Road home again that evening, and we sat down to the task. Patiently, both he and I went over the two-line text, and what it was possibly telling us. There they were, things that he alone until that point, not I, was struggling with: the name of Nainsukh; the place where the picture was painted, Jasrota; the name of Balwant Singh and his age at that time; the month and the year; the reference to an event beyond the region of the hills; and the refrain of a song that the singer in the painting was apparently singing. There was to be much celebration of this reading, for everything seemed to make sense; all that was obscure had been cleared up. He was especially interested in what the inscription said about Balwant Singh, and his age, and was to refer to my reading again and again in his subsequent writing. Between us a bond of friendship was forged, and it was a Nainsukh inscription that had done it. Many years later, sadly, there was to be serious disagreement between him and me not only about the identity of Balwant Singh but about how styles needed to be viewed in the Indian context of family workshops. There were reservations and, sadly, a certain parting of our ways. But, at that moment and for several years that followed, a sun shone upon our friendship. I remember that with great warmth.

I had not yet seriously embarked upon a specific search for Nainsukh but I was feverishly into doing fieldwork when I returned to India the following year, trying to locate painters and every scrap of information that I could get on them. There were many journeys, many places, many persons that became part of my life in the next few years. I recall the day when, in the course of a visit to the little village home of the painter Chandulal Raina, descended from Nainsukh, at Gaggal near Rajaul, among the joint family’s papers, I chanced upon a large folded sheet of paper that he said had been in the family ‘for a long, long time”. As he spread it out on the mud-plastered floor of the family courtyard, and slowly took it in, I was tilled with great puzzlement. It was a painted image of a determined-looking goddess with an uneven number of arms that fanned out, straight or bent, in all directions; the hands seemed generally to point towards some writing within rough circles, names of states and some individuals, all inscribed in Takri. An ‘iconic’ figure like this, apparently unrelated to the usual range of Pahari paintings, would have been at home in a temple, but here it was. in a painters’ family, preserved for generations because evidently relevant. Chandulal and his cousins were unable to read the text or the sub-text of this mysterious, wonderfully energetic work, but I felt the stirrings of excitement within myself. I was to devote much time to the drawing, trying to make sense of it, and, when I thought I had its meaning, to publish it as a ‘magic diagram’ that charted the course of the spread of the style of this family of painters, based at Guler and descended from Pandit Seu and Nainsukh. This diagram was to become the clue witch led to an understanding. at least my understanding, of the way styles worked within the hills, and to working out a paradigm in Indian art which differed from the one which everyone else worked with and took as inevitable then.

When my quest for the painters of the hills took me to different places of pilgrimage in northern India— Kurukshetra, Pehowa, Haridwar, Kangra, Jwalamukhi, Martand, Benares, Allahabad, Gaya, Pun, among them — for consulting the records that the panda- priests kept of all their clients’, I began to document all that came my way concerning the painters. Several families of painters showed up in these records, as did a host of names and dates: I was shoring up information that belonged to families based at Guler and Nurpur and Chamba and Kangra town, and at little places where further branches of the families had settled. On Nainsukh’s family much information had turned up at Kurukshetra and Pehowa, where the priests were particularly helpful and cooperative. At Haridwar, where the records relating to pilgrims are the most extensive and perhaps best kept, I was able in 1964 to locate, with a measure of difficulty, a large number of entries relating to the extended painters’ family descended from Pandit Seu. There were references to Nainsukh, but nothing directly on him; I had seen original entries, abstracts of entries, prudently-made copies of entries. But, disappointingly, Nainsukh himself was silent in these pages. I had nearly given up when, one evening when the light in the sky was beginning to fade, a priest whom I had contacted earlier and from whom I had drawn a blank, turned up at the little guest- house where I was staying at Haridwar. He had something carefully wrapped tucked under his arm which, after ascertaining that I was truly pursuing the Guler family of painters, he placed on a little stool by my side. As I unwrapped it, I saw a bahi-register. It related to the town of Guler: the priest did not know if the painters that I was looking for figured in it, but it was an “asa/ bahi”, he said, and if there was any record left by them it should be in this volume, It was not explained to me fully why there was some secretiveness about this whole matter — litigation surrounding rights of priesthood could have been involved; the register may have been sub-judice; division of family property which covered old records could well have been the cause — but I was given the opportunity to leaf through its pages.

I could barely conceal my excitement and anticipation as I began with some haste, for there was not going to be enough time, to turn leaf after leaf. Several things flashed by: records of visits by members of the royal family, some original pattas stuck on to pages, entries relating to families of Rajputs and goldsmiths, things that (could not linger over. And then, as I turned a leaf, there it suddenly was: a dated entry in Nainsukh’s own hand, ten lines of elegantly written Devanagari, packed with information about him and his family, and topped by an exquisite little drawing on the same page, of the descent of Ganga made by him when he was there in the Vikrami Samvat 1820 (AD. 1763). Disbelief preceded my sense of exultation. As I took in all the information and what it was pointing towards, I saw other things: notes about what had ‘occasioned’ his visit, brief entries relating to visits by his sons and nephews, a drawing by Kushala, a note relating to his own ashes being brought to Haridwar in A.D. 1778 by his nephew, Fattu, and second son Gaudhu, all on the same page. In the same register was a brief entry in the hand of Manaku, Nainsukh’s elder brother, dating to A.D. 1736, and equally brief notes by two paintercousins, GwaI and Punnu. I took some hazy photographs and made copies of the entries in my own hand. I have returned to Haridwar more than once since then, but that register was never to turn up again (barring one brief occasion when a friend was able fortunately to photograph for me Nainsukh’s own entry). That evening, when I ‘heard’ Nainsukh speak about himself through that page in the priest’s bahi-register, has left an imprint. Few other painters of the past have spoken like this in India, with such bell-like clarity.

This is the way it has proceeded for years. The trail goes cold; suddenly, there is a chance discovery; when that is sought to be followed up, silence, once again, takes over. A painting like the one in which Nainsukh shows himself with Balwant Singh disappears from sight and then surfaces again, after more than thirty years; the scroll where Nainsukh shows Balwant Singh proceeding towards the sacred grove of the goddess Aparajita turns up in a group of works that have remained unnoticed and unaccessioned for years, but the work is a fragment, cut off at the right end where the goddess presumably shows herself; the first part of the same scroll is located nearly twenty-five years later, in another museum, again unnoticed and unidentified, coming to light only because I follow a hunch and persist with it; a random scanning through the files of Sotheby’s catalogues at Ann Arbor leads to the hitherto unknown record of the sale in 1931 of the largest group of Nainsukhs ever sold; when met in 1969, Thakur Rattan Singh, descended from Nainsukh’s patron, Balwant Singh of Jasrota, pulls out a notebook in which he has entered the reconstructed genealogy of his family, which he routinely carries with him wherever he goes. And so on. It is as if nothing is to be revealed at once, and what is revealed is revealed only partially. Tracking down Nainsukb and his work has been like recovering elusive images from aging film emulsions.

Elusive as they are, however, these images are worth recovering. For there are few painters who come even close to Nainsukh if one thinks not only of what they did themselves but also of what their work led to, the influence that they have wielded on the generations that came after them. Nainsukh did all manner of work: he left behind portraits, court scenes, elaborate compositions with scenes of hunt and riding picnics and soirees, iconic images, renderings of musical themes; finished paintings, painted sketches, tinted drawings, the barest outlines of the first flush of thought; he worked with brush and reed-pen; used thin washes of pigment or richly saturated colours; drew in black or sepia or vermilion; surrounded his paintings with the most exquisitely painted margins or left them bare, without a trace of limiting line or border, as if asking them to go out into the world and stand on their own. But whatever he did he managed almost instinctively to invest with great elegance and sense of classical balance. In his work, there is understatement, a noble holding back, which takes one completely by surprise and makes an image stay, languidly and long, in one’s awareness.

Nainsukh’s style, and sense of style, are spoken of at some length in the body of this work, but it may be of interest here to look with some care at just one of his works to pick up the levels of subtlety he was able to attain. It is a simple, unpretentiously painted sketch showing a small, almost domestic-looking shrine in which an iconic image of Vishnu is installed; two men are seen seated, one with his back turned towards us, and the other a priest holding up a folio of a manuscript from which he is reading. There are small inelegant looking inscriptions — not in Nainsukh’s hand but in some former owner’s — which identify the place and the persons for us. The shrine, the inscriptions tell us, is the thakurdwara, literally ‘Vishnu’s abode’, at Jasrota; the priest reading from the folio is Pandit Han Saran, and the man seated on the floor with only his back visible here is Balwant Singh Jasrotia. From other sources we know the place; we also know Balwant Singh well, the prince who was Nainsukh’s patron; and Han Saran, the pandit who served the family. Nothing is overtly stated but, from a reconstruction of events in the life of Nainsukh’s prince, one guesses that what the painter shows here is a solemn, intensely private moment, some kind of leave-taking of his deity by the prince who had to leave his home in Jasrota and go into exile in hurried, unhappy circumstances. We are provided with a hint by Nainsukh, for on the small folio held by the pandit he inscribes minute characters in his own fine hand, a complete sh/oka-verse in Sanskrit taken from a celebrated text: “When a secret (literally, mantra) is shared by three pairs of ears, it is all but pierced; between two pairs of ears it can stay secure; but when it belongs to just one pair of ears, even Brahma is unable to fathom it.” The verse begins to work on us, and distant, mysterious thoughts take form in the mind: of inner struggles and hushed silences and betrayed secrets.

It is in secret perhaps that the prince has to leave; he cannot leave without paying homage to his /shta-deity, possibly a ritual needs to be performed before departure; a confidence has to be shared with the family pandit. One is obviously in the domain of surmise, and it is possible that one could be over-reading the painting and these thoughts are extraneous to it. But then what is the point of that shloka-verse written with obvious effort on that folio, and why, one wonders, do we see the prince here only from the back, something that we never do in the entire range of paintings that centre on him? One can be certain that something is going on, that it is a special moment. One takes in the way Nainsukh sets out the scene: the image of Vishnu, dark-skinned, yellow-clad, flower-bedecked, rendered frontally, unmoving, all-seeing; the simply-dressed pandit seen in profile, tense, staring gravely into space rather than reading; the prince seated like a devotee, completely wrapped in a shawl, and identifiable only through the inscription and the princely black plume that juts out above his head, face turned from us to make sure that no emotion shows on it. The spaces are clearly defined: the raised niche in which the icon is placed; the confined area of the sanctum within which the pandit is seated; this inner space, carefully framed and placed well above the floor on which the prince, outside it, is seated. The night is indicated by the two tall lamps that burn steadily on either side ct the central niche; there are other unseen images in two partially seen niches; remarkably little colour is used but for the skin and garment of Vishnu, the frame of the sanctum, the embroidered pattern on the prince’s shawl and his lower garment; elegant curves are contrasted with uncompromising straight lines. And it is all rendered with that wonderfully supple line that Nainsukh always knew how to use and bend to his purpose. It is a quiet, whispered work, spacious and uncluttered, hauntingly understated, at once simple and complex, ‘as light as a feather and as powerful as flight’.

Work such as this needs to be seen with that lingering care which all great art demands. And if it soothes, despite all the thoughts that it might raise, it is because he is able to invest it with those indefinable qualities of order and restfulness.

In this study I have endeavoured to bring in all the works known to be Nainsukh’s, and all that I believe to be attributable to him. Nothing can be finally known, and no indisputable statements can be made. It is particularly difficult to be emphatic about the over of any artist as innovative, as full of mercurial wit, as fond of experimentation until the end of his days as Nainsukh was — he took swift turns and entered unknown terrains — and it is just possible that more will be known of him, and his work, as time goes by. But, until then, what is here is what seems to have survived of his work. There is bound to be disagreement. All that I can do is to say that what is included in, and left out of, this book — there is both more here, and less, than some other scholars would believe to be his — reflects not caprice but reasoned judgement based on years of trying to get to know Nainsukh and his modes of work and thought. Or to recall that moment years ago when I picked the painted sketch of the thakurdwara at Jasrota that I have just described from a pile of ‘unimportant material’ in the Bharat Kala Bhavan at Benares, and took it to its Director, that great and wonderful knower’ of paintings, Rai Krishnadas. ‘Rai Sahib’, as we used to call him, looked at the work with great care and interest, and we spoke of it for a long time. He was obviously excited by this discovery in his own museum, asked me to read for him what the Takri inscription on the folio held by the pandit said. After I had done that, he referred me in turn to the Sanskrit text from which it was taken, the famous Chanakyaniti. Then, in complete agreement with my seeing the work as a Nainsukh, he leaned back, fixed me with his gaze, and simply said: To ab Nainsukh aap ki ankhon men bas gaya hai [“Now, Nainsukh has taken hold of your eyes”]. I would like to believe that he was right.

Some words about how the material in this book is organized, and about the approach I have taken, may be of some use. The ninety-nine works that I include here — one must always remind oneself that these can only represent a very small fragment of what he must actually have drawn and painted in his lifetime — I see as spread unevenly over three periods: Early, Middle and Late. The first covers the years 1730 to 1740, the second those between 1740 and 1760, and the last the years from 1760 to about 1775, close to his death. In the Early period are placed, apart from his self portrait and the portraits of the senior members of his family, works that are based on Mughal models, are possessed of a Mughal aura, or seek to come to terms with that naturalism’ which he was to make his own even while locating himself within his own tradition. Some studies of the members of the Jasrota royal family, early reaching out to potential patrons, also fall within this period. The work of the Middle period, easily his most securely identifiable phase — for in it his prince, Balwant Singh of Jasrota, figures most prominently — arranges itself in a manner of speaking, for one traces in it the course of a life, with attendant evidence of age, circumstance, and surrounding cast of characters affording help. There is constant experimentation, a pressing against the limits, even while his subjects remain much the same, perhaps predictable. The Late phase of Nainsukh’s work, however, sees a true opening out, a breaking free on the one hand into a range of themes that are old but treated with a dewy freshness and, on the other, into different territory where lessons learnt early on are summoned to the mind and — as I see it — daring stylistic forays are made. Under a different patron, and with time bearing heavily upon him, Nainsukh plans and partly executes whole series: a Ragamala, Gita Govinda, possibly a Bihari Satsai, even as he views things around himself with supreme calm. His interest in the present seems to all but decline and his mind centres upon seeing with his own eyes a vision that others before him had seen in their own ways.

To return to the organization of this book: any study of Nainsukh bristles with controversies but, aware that these are only of marginal interest to most people, I have split the book into three parts. The first, “Nainsukh: The Painter and His Work” offers a reconstruction, in the way I see it, of his life, work and style, in different sections. There are no elaborate discussions in it of disagreements and differing points of view, only a brief notice of them when absolutely necessary. The second part consists of a catalogue, in which is reproduced every work that I believe to be Nainsukh’s, together with detailed notes on each work. Persuaded as I am that somehow our enjoyment of Nainsukh’s work is hampered by the shadow that falls on it of discussions about whether he worked at this place or that, or for this patron or another, I have split these notes too into two parts: first, an analysis of the work and the meaning it possesses or the feeling it evokes; and then, in smaller print, a discussion of matters on which there are disagreements, or which could be of only limited interest. The third part of the book, “Nainsukh: The Scholars and Their Arguments” presents, as the title suggests, aspects of the life and work of Nainsukh, especially the question of the identity of his patron, Balwant Singh. There Is close argument in this part about sales and inscriptions and identities, and much contentious detail. To this section only the reader who wishes to enter this thorny field needs to go.

Finally, this book is perhaps best read together with Pahari Masters (Zurich, 1992) in which an approach to viewing the work of individual masters was established and where much material relating to the work of other members of Nainsukh’s family, material that is almost crucial to understanding him and his place, is published.

Acknowledging debts, and the countless kindnesses received in the course of one’s work, is not easy, for words sometimes do not reach far or deep enough. But, with gratitude, I think at this point of the members of my family — my wife Karuna, and our children, Apurva and Malavika — who have each in his or her own manner ‘lived’ with Nainsukh uncomplainingly over the years and stood by me as only family can, through days both rough and smooth. I think also of many senior friends and colleagues who, despite disagreements sometimes, inspired and supported the work that I was doing:

Rai Krishnadasa, WG. and Mildred Archer, M.S. Randhawa, Karl Khandalavala, and Mulk Raj Anand, among them. And I think of Eberhard and Barbara Fischer whose friendship sustained me through some difficult times and whose vision has succeeded in turning, with quiet warmth, what might have remained a distant dream into a reality.

In bringing together the material that is presented in this book, I have drawn upon a large number of collections, including those in the Government Museum and Art Gallery, Chandigarh; the Victoria & Albert Museum, London; the Prince of Wales Museum, Bombay; the Indian Museum, Calcutta; the National Museum, New Delhi; the British Museum, London; the Sharat Kala Bhavan, Varanasi; the Museum Rietberg, Zurich; the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Sarabhai Foundation, Ahmedabad; the Fogg Art Museum, University of Harvard; the Museum für Indische Kunst, Berlin; the Central Museum, Lahore; the National Museum of Pakistan, Karachi; and the Jagdish and Kamla Mittal Museum of Indian Art, Hyderabad.

To these institutions which made it possible for me to see and publish the works reproduced here, my grateful thanks are due, as they are to so many persons who own, or owned in the past, works by Nainsukh and who, in the very act of generously sharing them with me, often turned into friends: among them, W,G. and Mildred Archer, Karl and Mehri Khandalavala; W.B. Manley, George Bickford, John and Helen Bachofen von Echt, William Ehrenfeld, James Ivory, Sven Gahlin, Gopi Krishna and Vinod Kanoria, Jagdish and Kamla Mittal, BK. and Sarla Birla, Jehangir H.C. Jehangir, Nona and Jyoti Datta, Cynthia Polsky, Mark Zebrowski, Alvin Bellak, Danielle Porret, Marcelle Reinhart, and the successors of Charles Roberts. Associated with the institutions mentioned is also the kindness of many who headed them or manned the collections, among others: Robert Skelton, Betty Tyers, Debbie Swallow, C. Sivaramamurti, N.R. Banerjee, R.C. Sharma, O.R Sharma, C.M. Sahay, Daljeet Khare, Sushil Sarkar, VN. Singh, Suwarcha Paul, Poonam Khanna, Sadashiv Gorakshakar, Kalpana Desai, Shipra Chakravarty, Anand Krishna, Sarla Chopra, Vishakha Desai, Marianne Yaldiz, Richard Blurton, David Serase. If I mention these names, as also many others that follow, in a familiar fashion, I hope that it will be seen not as lack of respect but as indication of the closeness one feels when working with colleagues.

In the course of the fieldwork that has gone into this study of Nainsukh, I drew once again upon the kindness of people, too many to list here, but especially of: Pandits Han Bilas, Madan Mohan and Ram Bahadur of Kurukshetra; Sardar Ram Kumar, and Pandits Shiv Kumar, Gopichand, Gangaram Bhagwandas, and Pyarelal of Haridwar; Pandits Gajanan, Baburam Jogindernath, Mam Raj of Pehowa; Pandits Parmanand Nanakchand of Martand; Pandits Shashi Bhushan and Ishwari Prasad of Jwalamukhi; Thakur Luddar Singh Jamwal and Patwari Mohan Singh of Suruinsar; Thakur Rattan Singh Jasrotia of Lanj-Ambi Ghar; Thakur Bidhi Singh Jasrotia of Dhanotu; Thakur Ram Singh and Purohit Basdu Ram of Bandrela; above all, Chandulal Raina of Rajol and his family. Mr Ashwini Kumar, Mr and Mrs Han Datt, Thakur Gangbir Singh, Prof. IN. Chaudhary, Prof. Harsharan Singh, and Mr SN. Verma made, at an early point of time, the carrying out of demanding fieldwork possible in many thoughtful ways.

I also wish to acknowledge, with warmth and gratitude, the friendship and the support of ES. Aijazuddin, Milo C. Beach, Usha Bhatia, Charles Blitzer, Pramod Chandra, Pierre Combernous, Stan Czuma, Vidya Dehejia, Saryu Doshi, Ray Lewis, D.S. Malhotra, Porter McCray, VC. Chri, Pratapaditya Pal, Dinanath Pathy, Radhika Sabavala, Gira Sarabhai, Gautam Sarabhai, Philippa Vaughan, Paul Walter, Joanna Williams, Jean- Pierre and Dorothee Zehnder The latter part of my work was done in Zurich and it was made possible by the friendliness and the remarkable abilities that Andrea Kuprecht brought to her many tasks. My friends UIrlch Albers, Ursula Dohrn, Barbara and Eberhard Fischer, Hans-Rudolf and Ruth Rahn, and Balthasar and Nanni Reinhart supported the printing of this book, and I am thankful for their generosity. I also received help, in more ways than can be recounted here, from Lucy Rudolph, Georgette Boner, Lydia Lehmann, Lorenz and Annemarie Homberger, Suzanne Scheitlin, Kurt and Kati Spillmann, Isabelle Wettstein, Brigitte Kammerer, Monica Stocker, and Fred Bauer. I am conscious of these kindnesses, and grateful.

Contents

About this Book 9
The painter and his work 17
Catalogue
Early Period 1730-1740 47
Middle Period 1740-1760 85
Late Period 1760-1775 217
The scholars and their arguments
On how and when Nainsukh’s works came to light 253
On the identity of Nainsukh’s patron, Balwant Singh 259
On the inscriptions on Nainsukh’s work 285
Genealogical table of the Seu-family 296
Inscriptions 267
Bibliography 301
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