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Krishna Flirting with the Gopis, to Radha's Sorrow: Folio from a Gita Govinda Series

Attributed to Purkhu

Not on view

Purkhu may have known the Gita Govinda series by the masters of the first generation after Manaku and Nainsukh, for it seems that his rendering of nature was inspired by their work. Here, Purkhu gave free expression to the emotions described in the poem. The figures are highly animated, and the natural setting is orchestrated to reflect the moods evoked in different views of the composition, a feature seen to even greater effect in the pictures of the first generation after Manaku and Nainsukh. A signature feature, reminiscent of the work of Manaku, is the white line that indicates the bank of the Yamuna River.

About the Artist

Purkhu of Kangra
Active ca. 1780–1820

During the reign of Sansar Chand (r. 1775–1823), Kangra was a large state in the Pahari region of Himachal Pradesh and was important both politically and culturally. In view of the sheer quantity of surviving eighteenth- and nineteenth-century paintings from Kangra, it must have maintained a very large artist workshop, at its peak probably under the direction of the chitrera (painter) Purkhu.

In addition to pictures documenting the public and private life of his patron, Purkhu painted numerous illustrated series depicting religious themes. If one compares the contemporary works by the painters of the first generation after Manaku and Nainsukh of Guler with those from Purkhu’s workshop, the differences are obvious. Those of the first group are lyrical and dreamlike while capturing the atmosphere of the texts illustrated, whereas Purkhu tended to work in a style best described as journalistic. At first glance, the facial types in Purkhu’s audience scenes and portraits do not seem particularly individualized, but closer examination reveals subtle distinctions. This is observed, for example, in Sansar Chand contemplating paintings, a work that also indicates how much Indian pictures were appreciated by a patron and his inner circle of connoisseurs. Sansar Chand and his courtiers are enjoying images of beautiful women. At the lower left is a figure intended to represent a painter, holding a fabric cover used to protect pictures. Whether or not this is Purkhu is an open question.

In addition to his courtly scenes, fascinating features of Purkhu’s work are also evident in the extensive religious series he completed — Harivamsa, Shiva Purana, Ramayana, Gita Govinda, Kedara Kalpa. His illustrations for the Gita Govinda, for example, attest to his gift for innovation, evidenced in representations of the seductive Krishna in all his facets. In addition to depictions meant to visualize the omnipresence of the divine seducer, the artist at the same time worked on elaborate landscapes that are more mannered than examples by the artists of the first generation after Manaku and Nainsukh, to be sure, but are nonetheless convincingly idyllic descriptions of nature.

Krishna Flirting with the Gopis, to Radha's Sorrow: Folio from a Gita Govinda Series, Attributed to Purkhu (active ca. 1780–1820), Opaque watercolor and gold on paper, India (Kangra, Himachal Pradesh)

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