Krishna is depicted dallying with Radha, his perfect counterpart. The god tenderly lifts coy Radha's arm while she holds Krishna's flute in her right hand. A gopa boy (cowherd) kneeling behind Krishna is well aware of what is happening. The female figure peeping from the bushes is a sakhi (confidante) of Radha who shyly witnesses Krishna's advancements towards Radha.
This painting clearly shows the influence of the Sikh idiom in the Panjab. It is painted in a style that differs from the Pahari tradition of the 18th and early 19th century yet directly derives from it. As Susan Stronge suggests “the availability of European models, the obvious attraction of ‘realistic works’, the appearance of such painters as [..] Bishan Singh, stimulated by and responding to these new influences” [..] produced “absorbing work with a very different flavour” (Susan Stronge, The Arts of the Sikh Kingdoms, 1999, p.111-2). The emphasis on depicting Krishna’s body in the round as well as the suggestion of movement are particularly noticeable and break with the long tradition that produced paintings such as the Kangra Rasikapriya.
The influence of photography can be felt in this staged composition. Krishna and Radha stand in the middle of the painting as would a family in a photographer’s studio in front of a painted backdrop. The incongruous landscape with the Jamuna shown as a vast expanse of crystalline water, the steep hills dotted with dense green bushes, the diminutive tree rising from the riverbank shaped as a triangular platform, seems to bear no connexion with the figures of Krishna and Radha. The old sakhi, a character often depicted alongside young couples, and that of the kneeling gopa, associated with the cowherd Krishna, remind us that this is a religious image, albeit disguised in the form of an à la mode portrait typical of the late 19th century.
Opaque pigments and gold on paper, in blue floral frame within pink margins, traces of old adhesive in the top margin, old collector’s marks and Persian pencil inscription on reverse
Image 28.3 x 21.8cm.
Leaf: 36.1 x 29.8cm.
p r o v e n a n c e
Private collection, London, formed in the 1960s and 70s