An original 19th-century gouache painting, Company School, Indian Mica Painting Bhishti Water-carrier.
A fantastically vivid Indian gouache painting on mica showing a traditional water carriers or Bhishti, derived from the Persian word behesht, meaning paradise. The name is said to have been given on account of their ministering to Muslim soldiers at a battle. An 1845 publication titled 'Travels in India' by Leopold von Orlich describes: 'The byhishti is always seen with his leather water-bag at his side'.
This is one of a set of four paintings of domestic servants and craftsmen that we have for sale (see stock codes JM-658, JM-660, JM-664, JM-666).
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 paint loss, cracking and marks to the mica at the upper right, and to the lower edge, as shown. The colour denoting the ground is partially painted on the back of the mica, where there are two small patches of paint loss. Other lines and marks visible in the photo are not cracks but rather lines of slight delamination, which are less prominent in reality. The mica is loose, not laid down on any backing.
13.3cm x 9.3cm.
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-664