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Paintings in Awadh

Volume: 12, No: 09 ; September-2018

The development of Mughal painting was brought by both Muslim and Hindu painters who collaborated liberally with each other, sometimes in the creation of the same painting. The life size portraits of Nawabs of Awadh adorning the hallway in the Hussainabad picture gallery are gradually falling prey to the ravages of time.  A visit to the gallery speaks volumes about how the portraits need a fresh lease of life.  All the antique pieces of art dating back to the nineteenth century, once a prime attraction for visitors.  Painting in Awadh falls into two sharply defined categories as regards the subject, style and technique. The first represents the continuation of the later Mughal tradition with certain Rajput characteristics. This style flourished from (1750-1800). The second is dominated by European influences, it’s seeds were sown during the reign of Nawab Shuja-ud-Daula, who showed a fancy for his likenesses by European painters. While both the styles developed on parallel lines, it superseded the former so much that by the end of eighteenth century it was only the Indo-British style to flourish in Awadh with Lucknow as its centre where the European population abounded. Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula was greatly interested in paintings and artists were handsomely rewarded, he owned a rare collection of Mughal paintings. The Awadh painters, despite their extensive production of portraits, could not surpass or equal the talent of the Mughal painters. But in imaginative creativity, the Awadh painters had a flair for using myriad colours. They put life in the portrayal of  historic happenings, stories from Hindu mythology, ragas and raginis, sports of Krishna, social events , everyday lives of nobleman and noblewomen and erotic subjects. Such paintings were composed throughout the Nawabi period, the Nawabs of Awadh were broadminded with regard to different religions. Although Hindu subjects did find a place in Mughal paintings, such representation was more copious among the Awadh painters, many of whom were Hindu.  Although paintings were done mainly on paper, under the European influence, paintings were also made on thin, finely smoothened sheets of ivory, which could be accommodated in the palm of one’s hand. Ivory pieces were cut into rounds, ovals or rectangles, and exquisite paintings were prepared in oil. This tradition of painting on ivory started in Delhi and spread to Awadh as well, however in Awadh this style was quite ordinary and was seldom refined. In the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata there are eleven ivory pieces depicting portraits of the Nawabs of Awadh, but they are not of a very high quality. The pleasure-loving rulers of Awadh had a carefree, easy and leisurely lifestyle, apart from the risk of losing their titular kingdom. The atmosphere of general sensuousness engendered an ambience of erotic listlessness and sentiment is one of the rasas in Hindu aesthetics. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, many albums of miniature paintings of ‘native rulers’ and ‘native characters’ were produced in the style of Gentil. One such album (muraqqa), executed about 1776, is in the Indian Office Library which has the portraits of  Nawab  Saadat  Khan, Burhan al Mulk, Safdar Jung, Shuja–al-Daulah, the rulers of Awadh and their officers as well as the rulers of other princely states. A set of paintings of native characteristics is also bound with this set, closely related to it in respect of colour scheme and style in which it suggests that it was executed about the same time. The art of Awadh underscores this complicated, connected history with the Awadhi miniature painting in particular characterized as eclectic, weaving a hybrid of Persinate, Mughal, Indic, and European visual vocabularies. The rulers of Awadh were active patrons of art and culture, they inherited the rich traditions of the Mughals and strengthen these by creating an environment of eclecticism by bringing together heterogeneous elements in several aspects : arts , religion, philosophy, education, the symbols of royalty among others. The capital of Awadh grew under their fostering care to attain fame far and wide for the accouterments of high Indo-Persian culture and courtly behavior, refinements of language, the sartorial heritage, cuisine, the visual and performing arts, and a variety of crafts – so much that it became the cultural mode of north India.


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