Natural pigments on paper
a) 21.5 x 29.5 in (54.6 x 74.9 cm)
b) 28.5 x 21 in (72.3 x 53.3 cm)
(Set of two)
This lot will be shipped unframed
When speaking of Kalighat paintings, one thinks of bold, curvilinear strokes, solid colours and voluptuous figures. It derives its name from its place of origin: Kalighat is one of the oldest localities in Kolkata, and is famed for its Kali temples. The tradition of the Kalighat pats, as we know them, draws from religious and social life in Bengal between the 18th and 19th centuries. The paintings were made on large scrolls of paper or cloth and were often a collaborative effort, where certain members of the family or a guild would be assigned with a very specific task in completing the work. The most impressive aspect of these paintings is the limitations within which each artist had to work—paints were made from vegetable dyes, animal hair was used to make brushes, and soot from oil lamps was used as ink. A limited range of colours, however, did not limit artistic possibilities, and Kalighat painters worked with what was available to create witty parables and religious art.
Kalighat paintings peaked in popularity between the 1850s to the 1890s. Following an influx of mass-made lithographs from Germany—reproducing Kalighat paintings in bulk—the meticulously made works diminished in their production, fading into the pages of history. The creative talents that conceived many different themes: satire, criticism of the Bengali bhadralok, serene paintings of Gods and Goddesses, and even animals—cats were a popular subject—were perhaps diverted to other professions. The style experienced renewed interest in the 20th century; artists like Jamini Roy popularised the language of the pat in Modern Indian art.
Looking into the 21st century, the integrity of this style has remained consistent in some aspects. The fluid, elegant strokes remain, but artists have adapted it to their own idiom, giving Kalighat paintings a more contemporaneous relevance.