Indian Art Paintings From Mughal Miniatures to Pseudorealism

Indian painting began with murals on caves, illuminations on manuscripts, evolved to miniatures, and is a force in the global art world today…

Indian Art Paintings: From Mughal Miniatures to Pseudorealism

Indian painting began with murals on caves, illuminations on manuscripts, evolved to miniatures, and is a force in the global art world today.

Features of Indian Art Paintings
Traditional Indian art paintings are prized for their bright, natural colors and intense attention to detail. India is a country with a diverse mix of cultures that represent a large number of people. In addition, historical changes have contributed to the development of Indian painting with Persian influences, modernism in the 20th century and a return to traditional modes of Indian painting. You can find classic works of art from the 18th century or browse through the works of contemporary Indian artists and paintings sold at auctions or galleries. Before purchasing a modern or antique painting, it is worthwhile to do research and become familiar with different phases and styles of Indian art paintings.

The Roots of Indian Art Paintings
The history of Indian painting began with remains of pictures found on cave walls. Buddhist literature describes paintings in palaces, but among the earliest painted surfaces in India that remain are the Ajanta Caves. The paintings in these caves, which illustrate Buddhist themes and stories, date from around the 2nd century BCE to 600 CE. Other famous murals in India from this period are in the Armamalai Cave, Bagh and Sittanavasal caves and the Kalisanatha Temple. As with many other societies, cave walls provided the first canvases for artistic creation that held images created from paints made of natural materials. The fact that many of these images still exist is a testament to the durability of natural paints and the skill of the workmanship. The earliest themes of cave paintings were often about divinities, and temples were often built in these caves with the murals as a focus for religious devotion.

Miniature Indian Art Paintings
Rajput Indian art paintings from the 18th century (Wikipedia)
Indian miniature paintings are popularly seen in museums and is representative of a major movement in Indian art. These miniature paintings were executed on small surfaces of wood with a cloth cover and paints made of a variety of materials. Miniatures had their roots in manuscript art, and like the manuscript illustration, subjects of miniatures depicted stories about gods and goddesses and from ancient lore. Rajput miniature paintings developed in Western India and had a distinctive style and subject. Characteristics of miniature painting are small human figures, usually profiles rather than facing the front, slender bodies and pointed nose in colorful clothing. The gods are often depicted as blue or black. Miniatures often depict religious stories, hunting, battles or love themes.
Styles and Periods of Indian Art Paintings

Mughal Indian art paintings emerged in the 16th through 18th centuries during the Mughal Empire. These paintings showed Persian and Islamic influence and were painted to glorify leaders and depict their victories hunting large animals, in battle or celebrating marriages. Mysore painting is characterized by subtle colors made of zinc oxide and Arabic gum called gesso paste painted on paper and wood surfaces. Tanjore painting in the South of India involved preliminary sketches followed by painting with bold colors and highlights such as gold foil and jewels. Pattachitra painting has as its subject characters and stories from Sanskrit literature, and paints are made of natural materials such as burnt coconut shells and plants. A bamboo stick is used as a brush, and the paintings demonstrate a fine attention to detail.

20th Century and Beyond
One of the most famous Indian art paintings by Abanindranath Tagore  (Wikipedia)In the 20th century, the Bengal School as a dominant force and encouraged Indian art paintings to reflect nationalist sentiments. It was a reaction to the Calcutta School which, with India under British control, encouraged a return to classic styles of Indian paintings, a move the Bengal school felt was regressive. Abanindranath Tagore, nephew of the poet Rabindranath Tagore used themes inspired by Mughal miniatures but with modernist touches. His best-known painting Bharat Mata or Mother India, depicts a woman with four arms holding objects associated with India.  With Indian independence came hybrid approaches to painting and touches of realism, surrealism, Western influences and a return to traditional Indian styles and themes.
When India achieved independence from the British in 1947, six painters formed the Progressive Artist’s Group as a way of finding new forms of expression for Indian artists in a post-colonial era. S.K Bakre, H.A. Gade, M.F. Husain, K.H Ara, S.H Souza and F.N Souza established the group with dissolved in 1956, but had a permanent impact on the history of Indian art.

Contemporary Indian Art
Contemporary Indian art paintings are characterized by international influences, traditional themes and home-grown genres. Economic reforms in the 1990s stimulated innovation in the arts, and the Pseudorealist style took hold in the art world. Devajyoti Ray is at the forefront of pseudorealism. The painting reflects the notion that something not real can give the illusion of reality and is reflected in other genres, such as literature, with the magic realism movement. Ray uses unusual colors and abstract images to give the illusion of reality to an imaginary object. NatvarBhavsar is an abstract expressionist painter whose work has received international recognition. Bhavsar’s painting is often executed in an improvisational way by soaking the canvas with acrylic binders and applying pigment powder.

Buying Indian Art Paintings
Whether you are looking for a 17th century Mughal miniature or Devajyoti Ray’s pseudorealist paintings, some research and expert advice can help you make the right purchase. It helps to know the subject well, so doing some homework on Indian art will be helpful before browsing for the perfect work of art for your collection. High-end auction houses, small galleries and places specializing in Asian antiques may be places to look for Indian art paintings. Ensure you work with an expert who is trustworthy to provide the right value and to give you information about your purchase. If you are selling Indian paintings, it is also worthwhile to find a dealer who can find the ideal buyer or consider putting the painting up for auction.