The Great Fish and the Deluge

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Item Code: OS78
Artist: N Harichandan
Oil Painting on CanvasArtist:N Harichandan
Dimensions 55.0 inch X 36.0 inch
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100% Made in India
100% Made in India
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This astonishing painting, oil on canvas, by the contemporary Orissa artist N. Harichandan, rendered using just blue blended with black and white, portrays under tempestuous surging waters a huge fish, five human figures, four female and one male, numerous tiny fishes plying in groups as out of fear, building structures : a massive palatial portal, a moderate home, a distant shrine, a couple of towers …, food-baskets, shells, plants and trees, rocks and mounds, and most strangely, a tall phallus form under the massive portal symbolising perhaps fertility. The painting seems to portray broadly that the overwhelming waters have devoured palaces, portals, mansions, huts, shrines, shells – the instruments of rites and declaring wars, and hence symbolising both, wars and worships, all stocks – food or any, all technical achievements that the towers symbolise, entire vegetation, every terrain and entire geography, life in any form, and most importantly the growth, fertility and creation that the phallus symbolises, thus portraying that waters devoured everything sparing nothing to sustain, neither a form nor an act or a process.

All above seems to symbolically portray an imagined version of the Great Deluge that occurred millions of years ago devouring the earth and everything on it, living or dead, to which the world’s almost all early mythologies : Hindu, Christian, Islamic, and those of Greece, Rome and Iraq, allude. As the Hindu tradition has it, once at the river bank, Vaivaswata Manu, the patron of an age and man’s progenitor on the earth, was offering water to the Sun god with a pot in his hand. Suddenly he noticed that the water he collected in his pot from the river contained a tiny fish. When he was putting it back into the river’s waters, the fish entreated him not to do so for the larger fish would devour it. It further entreated him to take it home which Manu did. For its proper growth he put it in a larger pot. In a day its body-size doubled. The other day it was four times. The fourth day it was so large that no domestic pot or tank could contain it. He took it to river but the river’s size too fell short.

As advised by the fish Manu carried it to the sea. Before Manu put it into the waters of the sea the great fish revealed that shortly afterwards a Great Deluge would occur and devour the entire creation, and that, Manu should make a large boat, ride it along his wife and some essential things and it would take him to safety. After a few days there were huge rains, and with waters flowing in, the sea-waters began swelling. Manu mounted the boat and the great fish, appearing from inside the waters, tugged it a high hill-peak. In Biblical and Qur’anic tales Manu has been alternated with Noah, and instead of the great fish God Himself commands him to do all above, though he is asked to carry in his boat his family and one male and one female of all species of animals for facilitating creation. In some versions of the myth, a great fish tugs the Noah’s ark, too, to a hill-top. Apart such variations, some other minor details, such as in regard to the place where the boat was taken to, also vary under different traditions.

The painting is a collage of various myths, iconographic traditions and imagery. It essentially represents the Great Deluge, but with subtle departure from all established traditions. The fish seems to have here the most vital role as it has in Indian tradition where for such great role it has been revered as one of Vishnu’s incarnations. However, instead of tugging the boat carrying Manu etc it has been represented as carrying on its back a woman holding the male on her shoulder. Apart, instead of a rosary-holding Manu and his usual two consorts the painting portrays strictly Europeanized males and his female counterparts who are four. The painting also does not include the Noah’s Ark, the central theme of Biblical and Qur’anic myths. Not merely two sets of traditions and iconographies, the eastern and western, the artist seems to have blended two themes also. The Great Deluge seems to be the painting’s thematic base, though in the portrayal of its figures’ forms, body-gestures, anxiety, awe and over-all mental disposition the painting is amazingly close to the 17th century master painter Michael Angelo’s ‘Creation of Adam’.

This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.

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Oil painting technique – India centric

Oil painting is the most interesting technique in art. Unlike other paintings or art forms, oil painting is a process in which colored pigments are painted on the canvas with a drying oil medium as a binder. This medium helps colors blend beautifully to create layers and also makes them appear rich and dense. Several varieties of oil are used in this painting such as sunflower oil, linseed oil, etc., and depending on the quality of the oil, a particular consistency of the paint is developed. With the use of an oil medium, the painting gets a natural sheen on the surface which appears extremely attractive. India is famous for its old tradition of making oil paintings. This art form was brought by Europeans in the 18th century and is now practiced by almost all well-known artists. Nirmal, a small tribal town in the state of Telangana is the center of traditional oil paintings in India where the local people practice it with dedication. Most Indian artists still use the traditional technique of oil painting.

Canvas of the required size is prepared

The artists use either a wood panel or canvas made from linen or cotton. Sometimes the canvas is stretched onto the wooden frame to form a solid base, or cardboard may be used. The canvas is coated with a layer of white paint or chalk mixed with animal glue. This mixture is then smoothed and dried to form a uniform, textured surface. The wooden panel is more expensive and heavier but its solidity is an advantage in making detailed paintings with ease.

Sketch is drawn on the canvas

Now the artist starts to draw the subject of the painting on the canvas using the actual charcoal or a charcoal pencil. Sometimes, he may sketch with thinned paint as well.

Oil paint is applied using paint brushes or palette knives

Now that the rough sketch is prepared, the artist is now ready to paint. Oil paint, a special paint that contains particles of pigments suspended in a drying oil (usually linseed oil), is again mixed with oil to make it thinner for applying it on the canvas. Proper consistency of the paint is maintained to avoid its breakage. The most important rule for the application of oil paint is “Fat over lean” in which the first layer of paint is thin and later, thicker layers are applied. This means that each additional layer of paint contains more oil. This results in getting a stable paint film. Traditionally, paint was applied using paint brushes but now the artists also use palette knives to create crisp strokes. To paint using this technique, the edge of the palette knife is used to create textured strokes that appear different from that of a paintbrush. Sometimes, oil paints are blended simply using fingers for getting the desired gradation.
Smaller oil paintings, with very fine detail, are relatively easier to paint than larger ones. The most attractive feature of these paintings is the natural shiny appearance that is obtained on the surface because of the use of oil paint. The blending of colors looks extremely realistic and this is the reason why oil paintings are loved by everyone throughout the world.
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