86. School of Tanjore

Raja Tulsaji of Tanjore, Seated under a Canopy, with a Servant, c. 1770

The Fondation Custodia holds some 220 Indian miniatures.1 Frits Lugt purchased the first in 1921, probably inspired by the example of Rembrandt who, in his day, copied at least 25 Mughal miniatures. Lugt possessed one of these copies after a portrait of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (reg. 1628-1658).2 But it was his successor, Carlos van Hasselt (1929-2009), director of the Fondation Custodia as of 1970, who undertook a more active and forthright policy of acquisitions, with the assistance of the art collector and dealer Sven Gahlin (1934-2017). As a result, the collection is rich with examples of the Mughal School, but also holds a fair number of works of various provincial Schools. In the past few decades the Fondation Custodia has sought to acquire pieces from Schools that are less well represented in the collection, so as to offer a more complete view of Indian painting.

Recently, three portraits entered the collection. The Mughal School was enriched with a portrait of the emperor Farrukhsiyar (1683-1719), who reigned from 1713 to 1719, and of whom the Fondation Custodia did not yet possess a representation (see cat. no. 10). The gouache is attributed to the artist Kalyan Das, known as Chitarman II, active between circa 1700-1745, whose style it does indeed recall.3 He is reputed for using a subdued palette; his greys and whites are applied with few half-tones, giving the composition an aspect devoid of depth. Chitarman II, probably a court portraitist, depicted the emperor Farrukhsiyar on several occasions.4 The latter is seen here richly garbed in white, accompanied by a servant holding a morchal (peacock feather fly whisk). His face stands out against a golden halo behind his head. The artist concentrates on the two figures, while the background is left entirely vacant.

The second miniature (see cat. no. 85), painted at Kotah in Rajasthan around 1700, is an important acquisition for the Fondation Custodia, which until now held only later sheets from this School, mainly represented by works from the second half of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.5 This one is a portrait of Rao Ram Singh, known for his military feats, who ruled over Kotah from 1696 to 1707.6 His portrait, probably done during his lifetime, shows him on horseback in an extensive landscape.7 This type of equestrian portrait belongs to a whole tradition in Kotah, expressed also by the special care the artist gave to the shades of the horse’s coat.8

Lastly, the third portrait belongs to the Tanjore School (Thanjavur), located in the south of India (see cat. no. 86). Until recently the Fondation Custodia did not possess a single example from this region; this portrait of Raja Tulsaji (or Tuljaji) of Tanjore (reg. 1765-1786), entered in 2013, is the latest acquisition.9

It was under the reign of Raja Tulsaji that Tanjore fell under the governance of the British East India Company. The Raja was first imprisoned before being restored to his role by the Company in 1776: he nonetheless remained under British control. This portrait shows him under a canopy surrounded by huge cushions and holding a sweet-smelling jewel. What makes this painting special is the presence of fragments of beetle-wing cases, used to produce the impression of dazzling jewellery. More typical of the Basohli School, in Northern India, this technique was hardly ever used by the other Schools. The same composition, including the presence of elytra, is found in a portrait held in the Clive Collection of Powis Castle.10 RSB

1This part of the collection has been published, except for the acquisitions after 2002; Sven Gahlin and Mària van Berge-Gerbaud, L’Inde des légendes et des réalités. Miniatures indiennes et persanes de la Fondation Custodia, Collection Frits Lugt, exh. cat., Paris (Institut Néerlandais) 1983; Sven Gahlin, The Courts of India. Indian miniatures from the collection of the Fondation Custodia, Paris, exh. cat., Amsterdam (Rijksmuseum) 1991; Sven Gahlin, Couleurs de l’Inde. Nouvelles acquisitions de la Collection Frits Lugt, exh. cat., Paris (Fondation Custodia) 2002.

2Purchased in 1920, inv. no. 592 (pen and brown ink, brown wash, on Oriental paper; 178 × 101 mm); see Peter Schatborn, Rembrandt and His Circle. Drawings in the Frits Lugt Collection, 2 vol., Bussum and Paris 2010, vol. 1, pp. 79-83, no. 20, vol. 2, p. 31, no. 20.

3For Chitarman II see Terence McInerney, ‘Chitarman II (Kalyan Das)’, in Milo C. Beach, Eberhard Fischer and B.N. Goswamy, Masters of Indian Painting, II, 1650-1900, Zurich 2011, pp. 547-562.

4For the portraits of Farrukhsiyar attributed to Chitarman II see ibid., pp. 548-549; and sale, New York (Sotheby’s), 21 March 2012, no. 222 (attributed to Chitarman II or Bhawanidas).

5Except for a drawing attributed to the master of Kotah, Young Woman Recumbent with a Fan, c. 1730, inv. no. 2007-T.2 (brush and black ink; 216 × 146 mm).

6For more biographical information, see Stuart Cary Welch (ed.), Gods, Kings and Tigers. The Art of Kotah, Munich 1997, pp. 44-45.

7According to ibid., p. 45, our sheet would be practically contemporary with the reign of Rao Ram Singh, but the inscription above would be more recent.

8Joachim Bautze, ‘A Second Set of Equestrian Portraits painted during the reign of Maharao Umed Singh of Kotah’, in B.N. Goswamy (ed.), Indian Painting. Essays in Honour of Karl J. Khandalavala, New Delhi 1995, pp. 35-51.

9A first sheet was acquired in 2008, Tanjore, c. 1800, Raja Sarabhoji of Tanjore on Horseback with Two Servants, inv. no. 2008-T.20 (gouache, heightened with gold; 417 × 317 mm); see Oppi Untracht, Traditional Jewelry of India, London 1997, no. 395.

10Inv. no. NT 1180663 (gouache, heightened with gold; 430 × 355 mm); see Mildred Archer, Christopher Rowell and Robert Skelton, Treasures from India. The Clive Collection at Powis Castle, London 1987, p. 125, no. 182; and C.A. Bayly (ed.), The Raj. India and the British 1600-1947, exh. cat., London (National Portrait Gallery) 1990, cat. no. 89, published as a portrait of Maharaja Pratap Singh of Tanjore (reg. 1739-65), but, according to Sven Gahlin (note in the documentation), there had been a mistake in the identification of the three portraits described in a letter to Lady Clive, and in fact it would be a portrait of Raja Tulsaji. Another miniature, but of Raja Amar Singh of Tanjore (reg. 1787-98), held in the Polsky Collection (gouache, heightened with gold; 432 × 572 mm) shows the same composition, but more highly elaborated; see Andrew Topsfield (ed.), In the Realm of Gods and Kings. Arts of India, London 2004, no. 134.