Maharao Ram Singh II of Kota

Artist/maker unknown, Indian

Geography:
Made in Kota, Rajasthan, India, Asia

Date:
c. 1840-1850

Medium:
Transparent and opaque watercolor and ink on paper

Dimensions:
Sheet: 15 × 10 1/4 inches (38.1 × 26 cm)

Curatorial Department:
South Asian Art

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:
2004-149-67

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

Social Tags [?]

There are currently no user tags associated with this object.


[Add Your Own Tags]

Label:
This type of head‑and‑shoulders portrait is unusual for Ram Singh II of Kota (ruled 1828–66), an obsessive chronicler who had different aspects of his reign memorialized in paintings. He is most often depicted as the hero of historic events that spotlight his daring and agility. This preserved preparatory sketch, however, shows only his distinctive snub-nosed face and trademark turban, and may have been done as a model for a more expansive and detailed wall painting. Ram Singh II designed this headdress for himself; it expresses the wealth and power befitting a king.

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

    This drawing displays the idealized physiognomy that was partially invented by Maharao Ram Singh II himself. An earlier portrait of c. 1833 is less idealized, revealing the pockmarked skin, flabby lip, and fishbowl eyes that were integral to Ram Singh’s natural appearance.1 But such verisimilitude was obviously not to the young maharao’s liking, and from about 1836, his portraits acquire the softened and relatively harmonized features that are visible here. A rare portrait photograph of c. 1865, taken when Ram Singh II was about fifty-seven years old, captures the aging and rumpled aspects of his appearance that court painters had been trained to ignore.2

    No Kota ruler was painted more often than Ram Singh II (see also Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2004-149-68, 2004-43-3), but head-and-shoulder portraits are reasonably rare.3 In this example the maharao is wearing the trademark headdress that he designed for himself—“a coneless, flat turban with a peak above the forehead, resembling the cap of a contemporary Britisher.”4 His facial expression is remarkably vivid, and there is no softening architectural frame to lessen the impact of his physical presence.

    Drawn from memory rather than life, this sheet displays a mastery of outline that sets it apart. The artist has drawn these features so many times before he has purged their contours of any hesitancy of doubt. One curve engenders an answering curve. One organic shape mimics another. This controlled yet buoyant line is characteristic of Ram Singh’s finest artist, an anonymous painter who also created a remarkable series of devotional pictures (c. 1831)5 and two great paintings on cloth (c. 18426 and c. 18517). “He perpetuated,” writes Stuart Cary Welch, “Kotah’s draftsmanly tradition by sketching everything that crossed his path, animals included.”8 This foundation in drawing gives the figures and objects in his painted works a characteristically precise and solid structure.

    This example of the master’s skill in drawing is actually the study for a miniature or mural painting of the same size. It incorporates two separate stages of work: an initial underdrawing in diluted tones of ink, and a final overdrawing in black. The overdrawing is heightened with a network of parallel lines to indicate shading and touches of transparent gouache to indicate color. These aides-mémoires would guide a later stage of work, that is, the completion of a fully colored version. Terence McInerney, from Intimate Worlds: Indian Painting from the Alvin O. Bellak Collection (2001), pp. 176-177.

    1. San Diego Museum of Art; Joachim K. Bautze. “The History of Kotah in an Art-Historical Context.” In Stuart Cary Welch, ed. Gods, Kings, and Tigers: The Art of Kotah. Exh. cat. Munich: Prestel, 1997, p. 53, fig. 14.
    2. Sven Gahlin Collection, London; see ibid., p. 55, fig. 15.
    3. For other portraits of Ram Singh II, see Joachim Bautze, “Portraitmalerei unter Maharao Ram Singh von Kota,” Artibus Asiae, vol. 49, nos. 3–4 (1988–89), pp. 316–50. 4. Joachim K. Bautze. “The History of Kotah in an Art-Historical Context.” In Stuart Cary Welch, ed. Gods, Kings, and Tigers: The Art of Kotah. Exh. cat. Munich: Prestel, 1997, p. 56.
    5. Rao Madho Singh Trust Museum, Fort Kota; see Stuart Cary Welch, ed. Gods, Kings, and Tigers: The Art of Kotah. Exh. cat. Munich: Prestel, 1997, pp. 186–201, nos. 55–62.
    6. Rao Madho Singh Trust Museum, Fort Kota; see Stuart Cary Welch. India: Art and Culture, 1300–1900. Exh. cat. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1985, pp. 429–33, no. 285.
    7. Andrew Topsfield and Milo Cleveland Beach. Indian Paintings and Drawings from the Collection of Howard Hodgkin. Exh. cat. London: Thames and Hudson, 1991, pp. 108–9, no. 42.
    8. Stuart Cary Welch, “Kotah’s Lively Patrons and Artists,” in Stuart Cary Welch, ed. Gods, Kings, and Tigers: The Art of Kotah. Exh. cat. Munich: Prestel, 1997, p. 35.