A Winter Evening
Page from a dispersed series of the Barahmasa (Twelve Months) by Keshavadasa

Artist/maker unknown, India

Geography:
Made in Himachal Pradesh, India, Asia
Probably made in Kangra, Himachal Pradesh, India, Asia
or Guler, Himachal Pradesh, India, Asia

Date:
c. 1775-85

Medium:
Opaque watercolor, gold, and silver-colored paint on paper

Dimensions:
Image: 8 13/16 × 6 1/16 inches (22.4 × 15.4 cm) Sheet: 11 1/16 × 8 1/8 inches (28.1 × 20.6 cm)

Curatorial Department:
South Asian Art

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:
2004-149-76

Credit Line:
125th Anniversary Acquisition. Alvin O. Bellak Collection, 2004

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Label:
This completed illustration shows the final stages of the painting process. After coloring and detailing the painting, the artist finished the border, then applied and burnished the metallic pigments, such as gold. Finally, he added three-dimensional details, including dabs of raised white paint for pearl jewelry and patterning incised into areas of gold (see the woman's bangles and Krishna's turban cord). The scene is probably from a Barahmasa series that romantically evokes the atmosphere of the twelve months of the year. The hero, shown as blue-skinned Krishna, wears heavy clothing and feeds pan (a leaf-wrapped digestive) to his lover, who is bundled in a quilted cloak. Blazing candles, a flowery rug, and a pink curtain turn the couple's terrace into a snug sanctuary from the dark, wintry world outside.

Additional information:
  • PublicationIntimate Worlds: Indian Paintings from the Alvin O. Bellak Collection

    Gold stars pepper the black sky above a high palace terrace. On it stands a shadowy white pavilion with a pink curtain rolled up in front, as though it were a stage set. We gaze into an intimate scene of bundled lovers, evenly illuminated by two candles that stand at the far corners of the room, to either side of the bed. The candles are covered with translucent shades, each punctuated by a round hole that allows a golden stream of light to pour forth. This interior set is delicately delineated, including the vivid navy blue carpet with yellow floral scrollwork and garden-green border. Outside of the lighted bower, however, the night yields minimal detail. Behind the pavilion appear the geometrically abstracted upper segments of four brick buildings,1 their roofs lit by the spill from the interior. Between them is the suggestion of shadowy trees.

    The hero rests with crossed legs on the yellow bedcover. In a conflation of the god and the poetic princely hero, he is depicted with the blue skin of Krishna but the dress of a prince or wealthy man of the Panjab Hills. He wears a green turban and a heavy green jama ornamented in yellow, probably meant to represent a woven woolen garment. The heroine, too, is warmly clad, swathed in a thick red shawl with pink inner lining and zigzagging lines to indicate quilting.

    The heroine reclines in Krishna’s lap, as if against a bolster, and reaches with her left arm to encircle his neck. With his right hand, Krishna feeds her pan, a slightly narcotic digestive wrapped in betel leaf, here folded into a triangle, while holding out a second piece in his other palm. She gazes upward, but he is behind her—their eyes cannot meet.

    This painting comes from a series illustrating a well-known poem, the Barahmasa (Twelve Months), each verse of which romantically evokes the atmosphere of its particular month of the year; the most popular version of the text was composed by the poet Keshavadasa. On the reverse of this painting is written the word magher in Takri script. This is the Pahari form of the month of Margashirsha, mid-November to mid-December, which is the onset of winter and usually considered the first month of the year. Although the weather does become much colder during this period, particularly in the northerly Pahari region, this image does not entirely match Keshavadasa’s verse for the month, which runs, in part:

    The river banks are covered with flowers
    And joyous notes of swans fill the air.
    The days are neither cold nor hot,
    How lucky to be together my love!
    Do not therefore leave me alone
    .2

    In fact, the painting much more closely illustrates the verse for the following month, Pausha (mid-December to mid-January):

    Anything cold in the month of Pausha,
      food, water, house, or dress,
    Is liked by none anywhere.
    Cold are the earth and the sky,
      and the rich and the poor all alike
    Want sunshine, massage, betel, fire,
      company of women, and warm clothes.
    The days are short and nights are dark
      and long, and this is the month for love.
    Do not quarrel and turn away from me,
      and leave me not in this month of

      Pausha.3

    Without the inscription on the reverse, this painting of snugly clad lovers, warmed by betel and by each other, with flaming candles creating an intimate sanctuary against the dim, frigid world, would have been taken for an illustration of Pausha. It is possible, therefore, that the notation is a mistake, perhaps caused as a later cataloguer accidently flipped two pages rather than one when this Barahmasa series was still intact.

    When previously published, the Bellak painting was dated to c. 1800. However, close examination of details, including the delicate faces and intricate patterning, links it instead with an earlier period of the major workshop of the Guler region, which B. N. Goswamy describes as the “first generation after Nainsukh.”4 Darielle Mason, from Intimate Worlds: Indian Painting from the Alvin O. Bellak Collection (2001), pp. 196-197.

    1. The architecture is very close to that found in pages of the dispersed Bhagavata Purana of c. 1760–65 (see Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2004-149-72).
    2. M. S. Randhawa. Kangra Paintings on Love. New Delhi: National Museum, 1962, p. 144. An approximately contemporaneous painting, Bhup Singh and His Rani Under a Quilt, is in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (I.S. 202-1949; see Vishakha N. Desai et al. Life at Court: Art for India’s Rulers, Sixteenth–Nineteenth Centuries. Exh. cat. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1985, cover, pp. 92, 94, no. 75). It, too, may be a Barahmasa page, depicting a similar scene. Here the two huddle together under a huge quilt, but the hero is shown as the specific human prince rather than as Krishna.
    3. Ibid.; see also V. P. Dwivedi. Bärahmäsä: The Song of Seasons in Literature and Art. Delhi: Agam Kala Prakashan, 1980, pp. 136–37.
    4. See especially Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2004-149-73, 74, 75. In terms of the specific handling of faces (relatively small heads, with large eyes showing the skin below), and such details as the unsagging rolled curtain, the hand matches that which Vishwa Chander Ohri (“Nikka and Ranjha at the Court of Raj Singh of Chamba.” In Ohri and Craven 1998, pp. 98–114) has recently attributed to Nainsukh’s third son, Nikka (c. 1745–1833), possibly from the period when he was working for the Chamba patron Raja Raj Singh (reigned 1764–97). While the stylistic affiliation is probable, whether Nikka’s name and the Chamba patronage may be attached to this painting awaits further evidence.