In the privacy of each other’s company, the ladies have let their hair and dupattas down. The peacock is eating out of the hands of one of them, while the other two look on. The painting boasts of a remarkable level of attention to detail - the gold booties on their richly coloured lehengas, the lush rugs and cushions they are sitting on, and the lifelike candle burning steadily in the foreground.
Upon gazing at each of the ladies in turn, one finds that each of the splendidly dressed ladies is fairer than the other. They are youthful and lithe, their irresistible figures enhanced by the skimpy cholies and low-cut lehengas they are wearing. Together, they are no less than the sultry glimpse of the skies in the background, the jewels on their flaxen bodies competing with the resplendence of the moon.
A brilliant painting, both in bright colour-scheme as well as in its portrayal of gold-like glistening faces – all, the noble lady or the maids, models of exceptional beauty, a work of contemporary hands, is one of the finest examples of the mid-nineteenth century India when medieval idiom in styles of painting, costumes, architecture among others still lurked but at the same time readying itself for saying good-bye to centuries’ old medievalism or what defined the civil life for long past. The painting represents a royal lady feeding honey to her pet bird, a peacock, with a cup of gold. The peacock’s presence and the fan in the hand of one of the attending maids suggest that it is an autumn evening, not cold but also not very hot. Outside the window – a large door-like wide opening, the sun – sad as it looks, as if unwilling to bid adieu to those inside the royal enclosure it shares its glow with, keeps hanging for some moments before it descends down. Clouds, dark and deep, have gathered around as if in sympathy and the maroon kshatra with a decorative hanging over the princess’s bed looking as would a curtain collected and folded – much like a thickly petalled rose, transforms into the mirror of the sun’s mood.
The sky has announced the day’s departure and the fall of evening and, perhaps a daily routine, the royal lady’s pet peacock has slipped into her chamber and has occupied its seat on the window’s frame, as comfortable and confidently as in its natural home. Though the bird has extended its beak to the royal lady who is holding a tiny cup of gold full of honey, it awaits a similar move from the lady’s side. Conscious of its dignity the bird knows that the honey in the cup is for it and shall reach it for besides her love for it she has also to persuade it to welcome with a colourful dance her lord when he comes to her. However, the royal lady would not easily yield. She allures the bird but keeps the cup a bit away and carefully watches the bird’s move. The other maid, seated on the floor, is extending to her another cup alike filled with honey but the royal lady’s hands are already occupied and the maid has to keep it holding. The maid with tiny hand-fan standing towards the foot of the bed is extending to the royal lady a round mirror contained in an artistically designed gold frame.
The artist has not wasted much of the background space for the display of stately grandeur. It is more or less a moderately sized chamber with green marble tiles flooring with green carpet overlaid and large window opening into a green garden beyond. The royal lady’s bed with two huge bolsters and a lavish backrest framed in gold, besides two maids in attendance, reveal her royal status. More significant is the amalgamation of modern art elements such as the depth perspective and the kind of background. In such features reveals the late Mughal miniature idiom, as practiced around 1850-60, mainly at Mughal Subas – provincial headquarters like Oudh and Murshidabad, that during the Mughal Empire’s decadent phase had proclaimed independence. Craving to look like the great masters the state chiefs of such Subas copied not only their lifestyle but also their art-cult. Thus, while stylistically their art had Mughal art’s flavour it adopted new themes, often a pastime as also a simpler background and simpler architecture. This painting portrays a similar theme – a princess passing her evening by feeding a peacock.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet.
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