Maharana Bhim Singh at a Jharoka Window

Attributed to Chokha
Udaipur, Mewar, Rajasthan, circa 1800
Opaque watercolour and gold on paper
35.5 x 25 cm

Maharana Bhim Singh (r.1778-1828) sits at a jharoka (ceremonial) window holding a hookah pipe. His right arm rests on the window ledge and his stares ahead in profile. He has a green halo fringed with shimmering gold and wears an array of jewels, including an elaborate turban ornament of emeralds and feathered plumes. Particularly striking are the heavy pearls that surround his neck, built up with layers of paint to sit raised on the painting’s surface. A faint crescent moon refers to the house of the Sisodia Rajputs, the rulers of Udaipur.

This portrait is attributed to the master artist Chokha. Unusually large in size, it showcases his distinctive painting style of solid forms and stylised features. Chokha instigated a new phase in the history of Mewar painting, reinvigorating the region’s artistic tradition with works that were witty, playful and displayed an unprecedented level of intimacy between artist and patron.

Chokha was the son of the artist Bagta. He developed his skills under the patronage of the Rawat of Devgarh before going to work for Maharana Bhim Singh in Udaipur from 1799 – 1811. It was in the thikana of Devgarh the both Bagta and Chokha experimented with their individual styles, free from the relative restrictions of the central court. It appears, however, that Bhim Singh was an enthusiastic patron who encouraged Chokha to develop his own unique style on arrival in Udaipur.

Recent research has highlighted Chokha’s ability to conjure rasa (sentiment) in his works. He imbued Mewar painting with a new sensuality; sringara rasa (erotic sentiment) is particularly notable in his portraits of women and of Bhim Singh with courtesans. Chokha’s figures are curvaceous, with languid, heavily lidded eyes and full bodies. They added a new dimension to painting in Udaipur, instilling it with emotion and a soft, expressionistic charge.

In the present work we see another aspect of Chokha’s influence, in his reinterpretation of the figure of the Maharana. His vision of Bhim Singh is one of strength and prowess. We see this in the bold, exaggerated forms of this portrait; he presents Bhim Singh as a man of absolute power, conjuring vira rasa, or ‘heroic sentiment’. This impression was seldom reflected in realities at court. The turn of the nineteenth century was a period of political and economic turmoil at Udaipur. Increasing pressure from the Maratha armies in the south and several years of bad government had left the court destitute. The image of luxury and abundance that we see here reflects the patron’s desire to present an impression of wealth and power. This found fitting expression in the exuberance of Chokha’s style.

Another example of a painting of Bhim Singh at a jharoka window is a large painting on cloth in the Smithsonian Institution, circa 1910-20, also attributed to Chokha. (S1996.33).

We would like to thank Molly Emma Aitken for her expertise on Chokha’s work.

Private Collection, Switzerland, 1970s – 2004
Claudio Moscatelli Collection, UK 2004 – 2013

Milo Beach, Rajasthani Painters Bagta and Chokha: Master Artists at Devgarh (Zurich: Artibus Asiae Publishers, 2005)
Andrew Topsfield, Court Painting at Udaipur: Art Under the Patronage of the Maharanas of Mewar (Zurich: Artibus Asiae Publishers, 2001).
Molly Emma Aitken, The Intelligence of Tradition in Rajput Court Painting (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010).

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