Company School 19th-century Indian Mica Painting in Gouache, Washerman to River


An original 19th-century gouache painting, Company School, Indian Mica Painting Washerman to River.

A fantastically vivid Indian gouache painting on mica. Inscribed below: 'Washerman goes to River', the scene depicts a washerman (or dhobi) and his wife and donkeys, carrying bundles of washing.

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.

The mica has been tipped on to an album page, likely by the original collector. The album page has subsequently, at a later date, been mounted on to a backing card for display.

Unsigned. Inscribed on backing paper lower centre: 'Washerman goes to River'.
There are some scattered areas of paint loss, as shown. At the lower right corner the mica has delaminated causing a small area of the mica and paint to lift up. The backing paper has small nicks and tears to the edges, as shown.
9.7cm x 13.9cm.

This painting is one of a series 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-122

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