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Oliver Forge and Brendan Lynch Ltd.

Ladies Visiting an Ascetic
Attributed to the Avadh artist, Mir Kalan Khan, circa 1750 A.D.
Opaque watercolour with gold on paper
310 by 220 mm. page; 220 by 145 mm. miniature

In this quiet moonlit scene, two Hindu ladies are bringing food in a jewelled gold dish to a Hindu ascetic who is seated on a tiger skin outside his hut, with a disciple beside him. The ascetic is grey in colour, suggesting he is a Saiva ascetic who has smeared his body with ash. He rests easily on his tiger-skin, his hand clasped round one bent leg while the other is extended forwards. His disciple is intent on the dishes of fruit and jars that are placed in front of him. Beyond the terrace are a garden and a sheet of water reflecting the moonlight, while in the distance is a town from which the ladies have come.

The inscription at the bottom is a later attribution, not a signature, and it takes a form slightly different, but not necessarily erroneous, to the normal such inscriptions. There is no difficulty fitting the painting into his work. Mir Kalan Khan was an artist much influenced by European prints, as can be seen here in the easy attitudes adopted by the ascetic and his disciple. The latter is the only one in this picture in three-quarter profile, often the artist’s favourite posture, but here by adopting profile portraiture for the ascetic, he can make him look straight across the painting at the women thereby putting them into a meaningful relationship. Such concerns are very much part of this artist’s repertoire. The women here are less advanced than in most of Mir Kalan Khan’s work in Avadh, in that they still betray their origin from the ladies of the Muhammad Shah period in their costume and profile. All the figures though show this artist breaking free of the mould of stereotypical Mughal portraiture in his use of naturalistic foreshortening for arms and shoulders. Since we lack any securely dated work by this artist between his work in the albums in St Petersburg in 1734-35 and his mature work in his Avadh style dating from around 1760, it is perfectly possible that this is a transitional work between his two phases.

Sotheby’s, Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian Art, New York, 21-22.iii.1990, lot 63
Private European collection, 1990-

Inscribed in Persian: raqm-i al-fakir Mir Kalan

For further works by Mir Kalan Khan, see:
Falk, T., and Archer, M., Indian Miniatures in the India Office Library, London, 1981, pp. 435-37 Welch, S.C., et al., The St. Petersburg Muraqqa': Album of Indian and Persian Miniatures from the 16th through the 18th century and Specimens of Persian Calligraphy by 'Imad al-Hasani, Milan, 1996, pls. 16, 17, 214 Topsfield, A., Indian Paintings from Oxford Collections, Oxford, 1994, pls. 29-30 Losty, J.P., 'Towards a New Naturalism: Portraiture in Murshidabad and Avadh 1750-80', in B. Schmitz, ed., After the Great Mughals: Painting in Delhi and the Regional Courts in the 18th and 19th Centuries, Bombay, 2002, pls. 13-15

all text & images � Oliver Forge and Brendan Lynch Ltd.

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