INDIA | KOTAH

Varaha
India, Rajasthan, Kotah school
c. 1750
Gouache and gold on paper

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Varaha
India, Rajasthan, Kotah school
c. 1750
Gouache and gold on paper
8 x 6 1/4 in. (20.3 x 15.9 cm.)

Varaha is the third of the Dashavatar, where Vishnu assumes the form of a boar to rescue Bhudevi (Mother Earth) from the demon Hiranyaksha, who was blessed by Brahma with a boon. He and his brother torment the Earth and Hiranyaksha  buries the Earth deep in primordial waters, whereupon Varaha burrows deep below and raises up Bhudevi on his tusk, in the same motion slaying Hiranyaksha with his spear.

Women in a Hunting Lodge
India, Kotah
c. 19th century
Gouache heightened with gold on paper

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Women in a Hunting Lodge
India, Kotah
c. 19th century
Gouache heightened with gold on paper

Provenance:
Christie’s London, 3 April 2009, Lot 353

Six women stand on the inside of a Shikaragah (hunting tower), surrounded by lush, vibrant vegetation and an array of different animals. One woman holds a gun on the ground floor, aiming at the ox that has apparently just been overtaken by a pair of lions, two embracing ladies on the terrace viewing the attack in suspense. Hunting scenes were hugely venerated in Kotah painting through commissions from the Maharaos, a subject of great royal interest as the hunt was perceived to be a sport for nobility. Kotah was so well known for its forests that were bursting with lions and tigers that a hunt was frequently initiated to entertain visiting dignitaries like Mughal princes or British officers.
These sprawling scenes of dense landscape that camouflage the creatures dotting the image were employed by court painter Sheikh Taju, who worked extensively throughout the 18th century under royal patronage. The imagery was further developed after Sheikh Taju’s time with the importation of Mewari artists to serve the elite, incorporating techniques from their home into the distinct Kotah style that represented the 19th century. The present example, executed in the 19th century, embodies this evolved style through illustration of numerous varieties of vegetation and finely crafted birds that appear across the composition.
Typically, hunting scenes would be depicted with one or more men, who were occasionally accompanied by a maiden. While hunting scenes were popular with Kotah rulers, it is unusual to see such an image with only female hunters, devoid of their male counterpart. Compare this piece to an earlier painting in the National Museum, New Delhi, titled Ladies Hunting Tigers (accession no. 47.110/1919) that depicts a woman with her rifle trained on a Tiger from a hunting tower, a female musician and male hunter positioned behind her. In this work, the woman is shown at the forefront as huntress, and while the man is not engaging his weapon and stands out of her way, there is still a male presence overseeing the two women. The current painting depicts only women, making it an important representation of female status and capability that existed at the time. For further reading on Kotah school painting, see Stuart Cary Welch, Gods, Kings, and Tigers: The Art of Kotah, 1997.