Maharao Ram Singh II of Kota Spearing a Buffalo

Artist/maker unknown, Indian

Made in Kota, Rajasthan, India, Asia


Transparent and opaque watercolor, ink, and silver-colored paint on paper

Sheet: 14 9/16 × 18 7/8 inches (37 × 47.9 cm)

Curatorial Department:
South Asian Art

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

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

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This painted sketch was most likely a preparatory drawing, but it also stands on its own as a work of art. Maharao Ram Singh II is shown spearing a buffalo, an event that took place at the polo fields of the Kota Palace each year on his birthday. The sketch shows the process by which the Indian artist created his painting: first drawing the main subject, then painting it in with transparent or opaque watercolor. The maharao and his horse were completed before other participants were painted and before some parts of the background were even drawn.

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

    Ram Singh II (reigned 1827–66) of Kota was the last great patron of Indian court painting (see Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2004-149-67,68). In the years following his death, with the downfall of the Mughal emperor in 1858 and the ascendancy of the British raj, traditions that had inspired earlier generations of court patronage fell into disrepute. Native princes adopted the Eurocentric taste of their viceregal rulers, and inherited court painters were gradually discharged (see Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2004-149-79). Patronage continued at Kota until about 1890, and at the smaller or more conservative states until about 1910 or even later.1 But this later court painting survived in a kind of twilight world, its purpose lost along with the understanding of earlier patrons like Ram Singh II.

    This painted sketch of 1854, which was a preparatory drawing for a finished work, reflects the foundation in craft that had sustained Kota’s workshop tradition during its glory days.2 Mounted on a horse, Ram Singh II is pursuing the fleeing water buffalo he has speared. Wearing body armor and a visored helmet, the maharao is followed by three attendants who carry his royal regalia (parasol, fly whisk, and peacock-feather fan) and an unsheathed sword. Once the maharao has weakened the water buffalo with repeated thrusts of his spear, the sword bearer will draw near, and Ram Singh will finish the beast with a coup de grâce.

    This drawing illustrates an event that took place every year.3 To celebrate his birthday, Ram Singh II would hunt a water buffalo—a very dangerous animal when challenged—on the field of the Kota polo grounds. This drawing depicts that grass and scrub polo field, but not the invited guests or excited hoi polloi who would have applauded from the sidelines.

    Another preparatory study, drawn by the same artist for the same painting, is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London,4 and represents an earlier stage in the long process that resulted in a finished work. In the London study the outlines of Ram Singh II and his horse have been finalized, but the drawing lacks the attending figures, landscape elements, and body color that are visible in the present work. Many other preparatory studies for this painting—running the gamut from initial sketches to more fully detailed studies—would have been produced but have not survived. However, the finished painting itself, or a related version completed the following year, has survived, and is in the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin. Dated 1855, this brilliantly colored picture is masterfully put together, rather like a couture dress, its surface an interlocking structure of line, pattern, and silhouette.5 All of Ram Singh’s greatest paintings would have had a similar evolution, and foundation, in drawing (see also Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2004-149-68). Terence McInerney, from Intimate Worlds: Indian Painting from the Alvin O. Bellak Collection (2001), pp. 174-175.

    1. For a discussion of later court painting at Udaipur, which survived until about 1945, see Andrew Topsfield. The City Palace Museum, Udaipur: Paintings of Mewar Court Life. Ahmedabad: Mapin Publishing, 1990.
    2. A lengthy Rajasthani inscription in the upper right incorporates the date and a description of the event.
    3. Joachim K. Bautze, personal communication with the owner, September 15, 1987.
    4. I.S. 311-1952; see W. G. Archer. Indian Painting in Bundi and Kotah. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1959, fig. 49.
    5. Linda York Leach. Mughal and Other Indian Paintings from the Chester Beatty Library. London: Scorpion Cavendish, 1995, vol. 2, p. 1006, no. 10.45; p. 1016, plate 146. For a related painting of Ram Singh II hunting a water buffalo in a jungle, see P & D Colnaghi & Co. Ltd., London. Indian Painting: Mughal and Rajput and a Sultanate Manuscript. April 5–May 3, 1978, pp. 64–65, no. 72. For a related painting of him hunting a water buffalo on the occasion of the Dasahra festival, see Joachim Bautze, “Scenes of Devotion and Court Life: Painting Under Maharao Ram Singh of Kota,” in Andrew Topsfield, ed. Court Painting in Rajasthan. Mumbai: Marg Publications, 2000, p. 137, fig. 15.