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Five Indian antique gouache ‘Company’ Paintings on mica. Three being images of Indian dancing girls in green and red traditional dress and two of young Indian men musicians, one playing the ‘majira’ (miniature cymbals) the other a pair of hand drums. Painted in thick gouache on mica. Possibly attributed to the artist, Shiva Lal (c1817-1887), a notable painter from the Patna region.
In contemporary gilt frames with framer’s label, William Weir, Cabinet & Frame manufacturer, Carver, Gilder and Print Seller, Royal Arcade, Glasgow, who flourished in the 1860’s and 1870’s. ‘Company’ paintings were pictures made by Indian artists to appeal to the British and other Europeans in Colonial India.
Indian, circa 1850 - 1870
The V&A has a collection of about seven hundred paintings on mica originating from India which include examples from Murshidabad, Patna and Benares in eastern India and from Trichinopoly in southern India. Most of the example date from the mid 19th century. Popular subject matter included Hindu gods and goddesses, religious events, trades-people and flora and fauna of the sub-continent. The majority of the paintings were produced in standard sets for the colonial tourist market. They imitated paintings on glass, which were popular in Europe and were also used in India by artists for preserving tracings of their family paintings and to decorate glass for temple lantern.
Mica is a transparent mineral composed of complex mixtures of potassium silicates. The variety of mica used most frequently by these Indian artists is Muscovite (H2KA13 Si04)3 which is found widely throughout south India. The mica is formed between strata of granite and the transparency of the material is a result of the heat and pressure created between the layers of rock during formation. Mica consists of many interlocking platelets, resulting in a laminar structure which can be split easily into thin sheets.
‘Company painting’ is a broad term for a variety of hybrid styles that developed as a result of the European (especially British) influence on Indian artists from the early 18th to the 19th centuries. It evolved as a way of providing paintings that would appeal to European patrons who found the purely indigenous styles not to their taste. As many of these patrons worked for the various East India companies, the painting style came to be associated with the name, although it was in fact also used for paintings produced for local rulers and other Indian patrons. The subject matter of company paintings made for western patrons was often documentary rather then imaginative, and as a consequence, the Indian artists were required to adopt a more naturalistic approach to painting than had traditionally been usual. Europeans commissioned sets of images depicting festivals and scenes from Indian life or albums illustrating the various castes and occupations, as well as the architecture plants and animals of the sub-continent. While most of the works were painted on paper, there was also a fashion for images of Mughal monuments and Mughal rulers and their wives painted on small plaques of ivory.