Materials and techniques of Kalighat paintings: pigment analysis of nine paintings from the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Otterbein University]On: 22 November 2014, At: 09:05Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: MortimerHouse, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    Materials and techniques of Kalighat paintings:pigment analysis of nine paintings from thecollections of the Victoria and Albert MuseumMichael Wheeler a , Lucia Burgio b & Michelle Shulman ca Senior Paper Conservator Victoria and Albert Museum South Kensington, London , SW72RL , UKb Senior Object Analysis Scientist Victoria and Albert Museum South Kensington, London ,SW7 2RL , UK E-mail:c Associate Professor of Chemistry Saint Mary's College of California 1928 St. Mary's RdMoraga California, CA , 94575 , USA E-mail:Published online: 04 Jan 2012.

    To cite this article: Michael Wheeler , Lucia Burgio & Michelle Shulman (2011) Materials and techniques of Kalighatpaintings: pigment analysis of nine paintings from the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, Journal of theInstitute of Conservation, 34:2, 173-185, DOI: 10.1080/19455224.2011.607769

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/19455224.2011.607769

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  • Michael Wheeler, Lucia Burgio and Michelle Shulman

    Materials and techniques of Kalighat paintings:pigment analysis of nine paintings from thecollections of the Victoria and Albert Museum

    This article is dedicated to the memory of Christine Mackay ACR, Senior PaperConservator at the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff. She jointly organized andcurated the exhibition entitled Kalighat Icons. Paintings from 19th CenturyCalcutta.

    Keywords

    Kalighat paintings; Raman microscopy; X-ray fluorescence; pigments; non-destructive analysis

    The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) has a large collection of paintings fromthe Indian subcontinent, numbering over 6000 works on paper, cloth, mica andpalm leaf. Included in this is a comprehensive collection of folk art, includingBengali scroll paintings and approximately 600 Kalighat paintings and hand-coloured woodcut printsone of the largest collections of these paintingsoutside India. A travelling exhibition entitled Kalighat Paintings, consistingof 80 Kalighat paintings from the V&A collections, toured Indian venues in2011 and 2012. Pigment analysis was carried out on nine of the works selectedfor the exhibition using a number of non-destructive techniques, includingultraviolet photography, X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy and Ramanmicroscopy. This article presents the results of these analyses.

    The works selected for this study represent some of the different subjectgenres and span the time periods covered by the exhibition (Fig. 1). Thescope of the current study is necessarily limited, covering as it does onlynine paintings which were part of the exhibition.

    The paints and paper of Kalighat paintings have been studied previouslyby Mackay and Sarkar, whose findings relate to Kalighat paintings in theNational Museum of Wales collection.1 They used energy dispersiveX-ray spectrometry (SEM EDS) and polarized light microscopy (PLM) toidentify pigments.

    The purpose of this research at the V&A was to identify both modern syn-thetic pigments and inorganic pigments to see if there was any correlationbetween the palette used by scroll painters working in rural Bengal in theearly nineteenth century and the urban painters of Kalighat. As theseurban works were produced for sale at a very modest price, it was necessaryto use cheap and readily available pigments which were both attractive inappearance and of high density to give these works the graphic impactthat characterizes them. The dating of Kalighat paintings on stylisticgrounds alone is very approximate; therefore, it was hoped that the presenceof certain pigments might help with establishing a more accurate chronology.What has been difficult to establish, however, is the exact date at whichcertain pigments were first imported into India. Information uncovered bySarkar and Mackay showed that the first specialist paint shop was openedin Kolkata by N.C. Dutt in 1842, which was taken over by the Laha familyin 1872 (now G.C. Laha).2 Although many of the companys accountsremained in existence, records regarding exact dates of import of particularpigments were not available.

    (Received 28 February 2011; Accepted 21 July 2011)

    1 Christine Mackay and Aditi NathSarkar, Kalighat Pats: an Examinationof Techniques and Materials, in Scienti-fic Research on the Pictorial Arts of Asia:Proceedings of the Second Forbes Sym-posium at the Freer Gallery of Art, ed.Paul Jett, John Winter, and BlytheMcCarthy (London: Archetype, 2005),13542.

    2 Mackay and Sarkar, Kalighat Pats.

    Journal of the Institute of Conservation

    Vol. 34, No. 2, September 2011, 173185

    ISSN 1945-5224 print/ISSN 1945-5232 online

    # 2011 Icon, The Institute of Conservationhttp://dx.doi.org/10.1080/19455224.2011.607769

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  • Historical backgroundA core group of early Kalighat paintings dating from 183050 were given tothe V&A by Rudyard Kipling in 1917. He presented the museum with aseries of watercolour paintings of Hindu gods and goddesses that hadbeen collected by his father Lockwood Kipling, while Principal of theLahore School of Art. The largest acquisitions, however, were made inthe period from 195053 encompassing collections from W.G. Archer andother donors. The pictures were painted by patuas, or village artists, atKalighat, Kolkata and had been produced for mass sale to pilgrims visitingthe Kalighat temple. The Kalighat temple is a shrine dedicated to the Hindugoddess Kali and the word ghat literally means bathing place. Although

    Fig. 1 The nine Kalighat paintings analysed in the present study, from left to right: WomanSelling Fish (I.S. 215-1950); Two Fighting Sepoys (I.S. 211-1950); Courtesan with Peacock (I.S. 247-1953); Elokeshi Meets the Mahant at the Tarakeshwar Shrine (I.M. 2_86-1917); Hand with FreshwaterShrimp (I.S. 469-1950); Elokeshi Offering Betel Leaf to Mahant (I.M 137-1914); Krishna StealingClothes (I.S 470-1950); Infant Krishna Nursed by Jasoda (I.S. 40-1932); Freshwater Prawn (I.S. 2-1954).

    174 Wheeler, Burgio and Shulman

    Journal of the Institute of Conservation Vol. 34 No. 2 September 2011

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  • the current structure only dates from 1809, the significance of the site goesback many hundreds of years. The temple is probably the origin of thename of the present city of Kolkata.

    Kalighat paintings are characterized by bold, often simplified forms withcurving lines and large areas of unmixed colour. W.G. Archer, a formerKeeper of the Indian Department at the V&A, wrote that the Kalighatstyle was a by product of the British connection.3 Current knowledge ofthe social history of Bengal and recent research by Dr Jyotindra Jain hasled to a deeper understanding of the cultural and social historical signifi-cance of these images.4 The artistic style of the paintings owes much tothe narrative scrolls produced in rural Bengal and Bihar using paper andwater-based media. It was also influenced by the pratinas made by thepotters of Kumortulithese would be painted by the patuas at festivalperiods in a similar style to that of Kalighat paintings. This is an indigenoustradition that grew up quite independently of the European influx intoKolkata.

    Kalighat painting is also readily distinguishable from the native traditionof miniature painting that had developed from the sultanate and Mughaltraditions of manuscript illustration. The subject matter of miniature paint-ings is largely concerned with the activities and preoccupations of the elitesurrounding the Mughal and princely courts of India. By contrast, Kalighatpainting took as its subject matter stories from the Hindu epics, such as theRamayana, and also the daily life of commoners.

    The urban audiences at Kalighat were mobile, with transient interests.Influenced by the different art forms around them and the need to workquickly, the patuas abandoned their linear narrative style in favour ofsingle pictures involving one or two figures. The backgrounds were leftplain, all non-essential details were eliminated and basic combinations ofcolours were used. This simple exercise in paring down composition, lineand colour created the key characteristics of the Kalighat genre andenabled the patuas to rapidly increase their productivity.

    Originally produced as souvenirs for pilgrims to the Kalighat temple inKolkata, the style originated from rural Bengal in an area where artistswere already producing narrative paintings in water-based media for amass audience rather than a cultural elite. The genre grew out of a needfor rapidly produced images which could be readily understood by amass market. This market dictated that paints and colours had to becheap and readily available. As the commercial centre of India, Kolkataserved as the principal point of import and export of most goods fromand to Europe. Commercially prepared artists paints were not generallyavailable prior to 1850 in India. European artists brought their own paint-ing materials with them, or prepared their own paints from scratch fromwhatever was available locally. The patuas who painted the Kalighatimages were a mixture of Hindus and Muslims who came from villagesin Northern Bengal, especially in the area surrounding Murshidabad inthe Midnapore district. The tradition of painting from these villagesrelied heavily on whatever pigments or dyes were available locally.These included many vegetable dyes and plant extracts that were madeinto paints by being mixed with a variety of different binding media,including one made from Tamarind seed and also a natural gum fromthe bel fruit (Bengal quince).5 The patua scroll painters migrated fromthis part of rural Bengal to the growing metropolis of Kolkata, whichexpanded rapidly due to the commerce principally generated by theBritish settlers in the southern part of the city from the mid eighteenthcentury onwards. The artists who migrated to the city became makersand painters of terracotta images that were also produced as souvenirsfor pilgrims visiting the Kalighat shrine in Kolkata. A limited range of

    3 W.G. Archer, Kalighat Paintings(London: HMSO, 1971).

    4 J. Jain, Kalighat PaintingImages from aChanging World (Delhi: Mapin, 1999), 22.

    5 Jain, Khalighat Painting.

    Materials and techniques of Kalighat paintings: pigment analysis of nine paintings from the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum 175

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  • pigments was used in the painting of these clay images, and these appearto be often modern, inorganic pigments, such as chrome yellow or ironoxide derivatives.

    It is interesting to note that when the patuas settled in Kolkata they beganto adopt a palette that largely made use of modern synthetically producedpigments in place of some of the dyestuffs previously used to paint patuascrolls.

    Painting methodsmethods of producing multiple imagesIn the beginning, paintings were copied by hand:

    Figures were outlined in pencil [Fig. 2] before the base colour was swiftlyapplied in broad wet strokes. A darker hue was added to obtain the sculpturalvolume [Fig. 3]; in the most skilful hands this was applied before the base coatwas dry to prevent tidemarks. Silver ornamentation was added last of all usinga paint made from colloidal tin [Fig. 4].6

    Lithographic printed outlines were used for later examples and were foundon a number of paintings in the V&A collection examined by the authors(see detail photograph of Kali IS.3-1955, Fig. 5). By the end of the nineteenthcentury woodcuts that were hand coloured became popular and could beproduced rapidly in larger quantities. These woodcut images were handcoloured with transparent paints and inks that allowed the printedimage underneath to be clearly seen. Two of the Kalighat imagessampled during pigment analysis are good examples of this type ofimage. The bold printed outline depicting Krishna Stealing Clothes (I.S 470-1950) was embellished with washes of pale red and turquoise transparentcolours (Fig. 6a). The background is further enhanced with a very faintwash of a pale yellow dye, which is possibly Indian Yellow, as it fluorescedstrongly under ultraviolet light (Fig. 6b). Hand with Freshwater Shrimp (IS.496-1950) is also an example of a hand-coloured woodcut print datedc. 1890.

    Examination of two of the earliest Kalighat images selected for analysis(Woman Selling Fish: IS. 215-1950 and Two Fighting Sepoys: IS 211-1950) hasrevealed that preliminary marks were made on the paper with pencilbefore the application of the main areas of colour. This was presumablyto help with the accurate placement of areas of colour and supports theidea that the painters worked in a production line passing a paintingfrom one to another.

    Valuable information about the Kalighat artists methods of working canbe gathered by studying several unfinished works in the collection of the

    Fig. 2 Detail of Woman Selling Fish(IS 215-1950) showing preliminarypencil marks.

    Fig. 4 Detail of Courtesan with Peacock...

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