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Maharana Fateh Singh’s hunting party crossing a river in a flood


Not on view

This spectacular panoramic vista, of the royal hunting party forging a flooded river, is a composition unprecedented in the history of Indian painting. Surely, it must be inspired by innovations in panoramic photography in which multiple views are composed into a single vision. Shivalal daringly filled more than half the composition with the gray waters of the swollen river, beyond which distant hills under lush vegetation are illuminated by lightning, which dances across the darkened sky. Into this setting, he placed the riders forging the river in single file. It is a surprisingly modern work, painted in the last decade of the century, which boldly asserts the validity of painting in the age of photography.

About the Artist

Shivalal and Mohanlal
Active at Udaipur, second half of the 19th century; sons of Tara

A final phase of painting in Udaipur began under the rulers Sajjan Singh (r. 1874–84) and Fateh Singh (r. 1884–1930) and was influenced by both photography and examples of oil painting. In the ateliers, the brothers Shivalal and Mohanlal, sons of the painter Tara, followed different paths. A work is known that was produced by Shivalal in collaboration with his father in 1858. Shivalal specialized in hunting scenes, most of them created on location, in which the sequence of events is presented dramatically in an expansive landscape. In some of them, Shivalal himself is depicted, and in others, it is probably his brother Mohanlal (functioning as an assistant) who is shown. One of Shivalal’s greatest strengths is the realistic, topographically accurate rendering of hunting reserves and of the landscape around Udaipur.

The increasing realism in such depictions also called another medium into play —photography. The rulers of Jaipur and Alwar had already established photographic studios (photokhana) for the purpose of documenting the visits of dignitaries. Shivalal also worked with the new medium, not from behind the camera but rather as a painter, coloring the albumen prints, either with traditional Indian pigments or with oils. While some photographs were completely painted over, on others, only portions were colored, the faces, for example, or the regalia.

The medium of photography, with its immediacy and its accuracy, heralded the end of traditional painting. Painters at court were insufficiently prepared for the arrival of photography. Some artists tried to adopt the perspective and compositional schemes of photographs in their pictures, but with limited success. Inevitably, activities at court came to be recorded in the new medium. Even Mohanlal began to capture hunting scenes with a camera, marking the end of traditional picture making in the courts of India.

Maharana Fateh Singh’s hunting party crossing a river in a flood, Shivalal, Opaque watercolor on paper, India (Udaipur, Mewar, Rajasthan)

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