Gopal Kumawat Painting on Paper, “The Virahini.” Rare Painting from the Legend.

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This is truly a rare painting from one of the most sought after 20th century Indian artists, Gopal Kumawat. 8″ x 13″.

The man:

Gopal Kumawat was not the easiest person to do business with. None of the art dealers could ever acquire any of his artworks
(during his lifetime) because of his condescending attitude towards them. He subsisted literally on grants and the award money he received from the government. He was also not exactly of a friendly disposition. Somewhat of a reclusive thinker and slightly arrogant, he was prone to long bouts of thinking sessions characterized by periods of intense mood swings. In his attached photograph one can feel the intensity in his eyes. He was the rarest of rarities: an original artist. One of the surviving paintings with his widow shows Shiva and Parvati envisioned as ballet dancers and also wearing the characteristic costume of such dancers. Yes he has visualized Parvati wearing a mini skirt! It gives me the goose bumps to even recall the moment when I set my eyes on this masterpiece. At that moment at least money became unimportant and only a vehicle to attain that great work of art. This maniacal urge prompted me to offer a monstrous price for it but alas she would not part with it for any price. But fortunately I am still friends with her and she has promised me that whenever I am nearby she will at least allow me to have a look at the remaining paintings, a privilege granted only to a few I can assure you.

I am also attaching the relevant material on Gopal Kumawat and Kailash Raj from the German book (“Chitra”) and also their photographs.
The following is a brief bio of Shri Kailash Raj:
Kailash Raj is a descendant of a family of traditional Jaipur painters, and was strongly influenced by his grandfather ( Nanu Lal) and by work of his great-grandfather (Amba Shankhar). His family is one of the few who managed to keep their traditional art alive throughout the 20th century, by continuing to serve as painters for the Jaipur royal family. Today, Kailash Raj is the master artist of the family workshop, which includes his younger brother Mahesh Raj, his cousin Kailash, and two young apprentices. In addition, he serves as a mentor to young artists from other areas of Rajasthan, who travel to him for guidance and inspiration. Although schooled in the family Jaipuri tradition (earlier known as Amber school), Kailash has studied Mughal and regional styles intensively, and he and his workshop produce fine works inspired by other schools. Kailash Raj has recently begun working in a new style which combines his talent for superb detail work with his interest in portraiture, resulting in works of exceeding delicacy and interest.
Many of Mr. Raj’s works are in the Canadian Museum of Civilization.

HA56 is a rare classic by the late Kishangarh master Gopal Kumawat. A recipient of the prestigious National Craftsperson’s award from the President of India, Gopal Kumawat never sold a single of his artworks during his lifetime. We were lucky to acquire a few of the remaining pieces from his widow, in one of our many sourcing trips to the town of Kishangarh, Rajasthan. In fact, if you will be interested, probably we can drive up to Kishangarh and view whatever remains of his collection and meet Mrs. Kumawat as well, when you are here in New Delhi, anytime in the future.
His life certainly was a very tragic one. Not exactly an easy person to live with, he separated from his devoted wife, to live alone with his mother, with whom he shared a close and special relationship. Gopal Kumawat reconciled with his wife after his mother’s death, but died a few months later, leaving his distraught wife and son behind. He was 42, and a victim of tuberculosis.
It is worthwhile to note that the Late Artist, – Gopal Kumawat, as well as Shri Kailash Raj, were listed as the greatest living contemporary artists of Miniature painting in the German book ‘Chitra – The Tradition of Miniatures in Rajasthan’, by K. D. Christof and Renate Haas under the auspices of UNESCO. I am also attaching a few of the masterpieces that once graced our collection.

HP41 was sold to a private collector from London, who now wants to write a book on Gopal Kumawat.
Gopal Kumawat died in 1998. He never was a prolific painter. His collection or whatever remains of it is not sizeable. Many of his artworks never returned from the different art shows and continue to languish at various locations scattered over India or have been appropriated. I know of no single Kumawat which entered a private collection legitimately except through our hands, though I believe that Christoff the co-author of the German book may have one or two pieces in his collection. It remains a cherished dream to add the Shiva-Parvati ballet painting to our collection someday.

This painting:

The painting depicts a ‘virahini nayika’, or a maiden whose lover is away from her. ‘Viraha’ or separation is one of the most popular themes of Indian poetry and miniature paintings. The ‘viraha’ theme in Indian poetry and even paintings has attained further dimensions in Barahamasa serialisations, which depict the cyclic changes of emotions a maiden in separation undergoes with every new month. Such depiction is based on conviction that every month comes with its own pangs for her whose love is away. Both poets and artists have devoted a lot of pages and canvas in representing the emotional state of separated love undergoing changes with changing seasons.

A ‘virahini’ is simply one whose love is away either on a temporary sojourn or for ever. Alike she may be a legally wedded wife or an unmarried love. In miniature paintings a ‘virahini’ is usually a young maid with timid down-cast eyes buried deep into their sockets reflecting the inner state of her being. She is painted with a feeling of desertion and dejection on face, lean and thin figure lacking in aptitude, enthusiasm and vitality, costumes worn casually and hair carelessly dressed lying scattered on face, neck and shoulders. A solitary song on lips, a lyre in hand and a ‘maina’ or any other isolated bird in cage have been commonly used to define a ‘virahini nayika’. Dull colours, simple melancholic background, usually an isolated chamber with simple architectural forms, a distant view of nature, or just a few plants blooming in full, a township, palaces, castles or buildings suggesting that it is where her love has gone are elements commonly constituting the back-drop of a ‘viraha’ theme.

The artist Gopal Kumawat, a masterly hand dedicated to revive India’s ancient aesthetic traditions and medieval art forms, while rendering his ‘virahini nayika’ has adhered to most of the established norms. He has used the Kishangarh face and form of his figure but has added to it further elegance and cuteness, an element of his own. He has used ‘maina’ in cage, distant blossoming plants and architectural forms, a simple grey opaque background and a lyre in conventional form for depicting the state of his figure’s mind but has added to it an element of symbolism by introducing flames of fire around her face suggesting the agony she is parching with. The artist has not dressed his figure with rings on the fingers of her feet, an auspicious essentiality for a married woman in Hindu tradition widely followed in Rajasthan. Hence it is likely that the artist had in mind either an unmarried love or someone deserted for ever, though other ornaments, particularly the ‘benda’ on her forehead, usually wore by a married woman, are suggestive of her married ‘suhagina’ status.

This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.

Tall and fragile figure of Meerabai stands engulfed in flames. These are the flames of her longing for Krishna- to whom her heart and soul belonged. To stress on the intensity, the flames are pictorially depicted. The facial and the physical features belong to the Kishangarh style. What with the high brows, long nose and a stylistic variation of the fish-eyed facial features of Jaipur kalam. The style is more an inspired idealization than realistic.

Meera looks graceful and exquisite in both dress and adornment. Her movement has the fluidity of softly cascading waters. How disarmingly the half-closed eye lends an enigmatic quality which the corner of the amorously curled mouth, as about to break into a smile, accentuates. She is adorned in traditional Rajput jewelry- the protruding head ornament, the nose ring partially covering the lips and the earrings concealing the ears and necklaces at various lengths. This female form in pristine glory has a well-endowed upper body complemented by a narrow waist which again takes a curvaceous turn outwards. The twin bodiced choli fits tightly, revealing the magnificent curvaceousness of her ample bosom. The odhni conceals the striped ghagra to twirl around her head.

Slender hands and feet are adorned with henna. Thin, long arms join the hands through a large number of bangles. The sleek hands hold a musical instrument, which again is a delicate accomplishment. The strings are separated by hair’s breadth and the upper part of the instrument ends in a fragile peacock. The lower end rests on Meera’s waist. The outward curve thus formed is countered by the inward curve of her waist. The artist has decreased the effect of a very thin waist with the help of her serpentine braid hanging down to her hips. Nowhere has such bewitching loveliness been limned with such lyrical beauty.

In the lower half of the picture, the semi-circular lines are more prominent. Not only are the edges of the ghagra and odhni curvilinear, the ground and the wall patterns have their opposite points touching, thus completing the circular rhythm. To countervail the curves, the artist draws sharp linear architectural projections horizontally, balanced again by the vertical lines of the cage, which has an imprisoned myna, who nevertheless, seems sympathetic towards Meera’s plight. The view through the window shows a lotus pond and a dome like structure in the distance. On the walls, either side of the arch, there is a conch sheel and a lotus each. The conch is one of the eight auspicious symbols representing temporal power and the lotus represents the spiritual power, being the seat of many a gods and goddesses. Thus, there is a sense of balance, not only compositionally, but in symbolic terms also. It seeks to reconcile the sensuous and the divine.

Never has the dual appeal of line and color been so arrestingly handled as in this incredible being, the secret of whose personality holds a fascination beyond belief, through the dark fringed lid of the half-closed tilted eye.

This description by Renu Rana.


Materials: wood

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