An original 19th-century gouache painting, Company School, Indian Mica Painting Sidar with Keys.
A fantastically vivid Indian gouache painting on mica showing a domestic servant, or sirdar, holding a bunch of keys. An 1845 publication titled 'Travels in India' by Leopold von Orlich describes the role of the sirdar: 'the Sirdar, called the Treasurer and Superintendent... always wears a bunch of keys at his side'.
This is one of a set of five paintings of male domestic servants that we have for sale (see stock codes JM-627, JM-629, JM-631, JM-632, JM-633).
Indian Company paintings on mica are rare; it is estimated that as of now, there are only around 7,000 mica paintings available in the world.
There is a small area of paint loss to the lower edge, as shown, where there is slight delamination to the mica. There are oblique line adhesive marks to the back where the mica was historically mounted in a photograph album. Note that marks visible in the photo to the left edge are not cracks but rather lines of slight delamination. The mica is loose, not laid down on any backing.
13.5cm x 9.9cm.
This painting is one of a large number of 19th-century works on mica that we have for sale, originating from India. Mica paintings featured a wide range of subject matter, including Hindu gods and goddesses, religious events, trades people and flora and fauna of the subcontinent. They were very popular around the middle of the 19th century, being produced in large numbers for the colonial tourist market: they imitated paintings on glass, which were popular in Europe at the time.
Mica paintings are generally small, and painted in gouache on one side of very thin, flexible sheets. Mica is a transparent mineral which is found throughout south India. The mica is formed between strata of granite, and the transparency of the material is a result of the heat and pressure created between layers of rock. Mica consists of many interlocking platelets, resulting in a laminar structure which can be split easily into thin sheets.
The appeal of mica as a support for painting is due to its very smooth surface: the paint sits on it without sinking in, making the colours very intense. Mica is a very brittle substance, however, meaning that it is relatively rare to find examples in perfect condition.
The Victoria and Albert Museum, London houses a collection of around 700 paintings on mica. There are further collections at the Wellcome Trust and Cambridge University Library.
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Product code: JM-627