UK minister blocks export of unique Indian painting of ‘Trumpeters’

By: | Published: November 17, 2018 4:48 PM

Britain's arts minister has imposed an export bar on a unique watercolour painting depicting a traditional musical performance in mid-18th century northern India in an attempt to find a UK buyer for the 550,000-pound artwork.

Michael Ellis, Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism (Twitter)

Britain’s arts minister has imposed an export bar on a unique watercolour painting depicting a traditional musical performance in mid-18th century northern India in an attempt to find a UK buyer for the 550,000-pound artwork. Michael Ellis, Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism, is hoping a museum would be interested in acquiring ‘Trumpeters’ by Nainsukh of Guler (1710-1778).

The painting is described by experts as a delicate miniature of a “rarely found calibre”, showing seven village musicians on a terrace, striking differing poses and faces, while energetically blowing the exceptionally long Pahari horns called Turhi, in the hill region of northern India. It has been categorised as a fine example of Nainsukh of Guler’s trademark gift of detailed observation and complex directional composition.

“Nainsukh’s artistic influence has been felt around the world for generations and this piece demonstrates the outstanding aesthetic importance of his work,” said Ellis. “I hope that this piece can be kept in the UK, not only for its beauty, but to help further the study of Indian art and history,” he said.
The artist is considered to be one of the most acclaimed of the Pahari Movement, a major and popular genre of Indian miniature painting during the period.

Some of his other works are exhibited in public collections in the UK, including the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum. The miniature is an example of the colour and light of India which inspired its first owner, renowned artist Winifred Nicholson (1893-1981), whose works have been exhibited in world-leading galleries including the Tate.

“Nainsukh of Guler’s beautiful miniature of musicians is a masterpiece unparalleled in North Indian art. But the exuberant gestures and puffed-out cheeks of the trumpeters bear a remarkable resemblance to the trumpeters depicted some 300 years earlier by the Italian Renaissance artist Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506) in his series of paintings, now in Hampton Court, showing the Triumph of Caesar.

“These paintings were repeatedly reproduced as prints over the coming centuries, initially by Mantegna himself. Did Nainsukh see, and was he influenced, by the prints when preparing this watercolour?” said reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA) member Peter Barber.

RCEWA, which made the recommendation to defer the export licence on the painting, said it offers a British gallery, museum or library the opportunity to acquire the piece. Like the Mantegnas, it would then remain in the UK and the connections between two great works of Asian and European arts could be further investigated.

The recommendation was made on the grounds that the painting is of outstanding aesthetic importance and of significant use in the study of Indian history. The decision on the export licence application for the painting will be deferred until February 15 next year in the hope of finding a buyer.
This may be extended until May 15, 2019 if a serious intention to raise funds to purchase it is made at the recommended price of 550,000 pounds.

RCEWA is an independent body, serviced by the UK’s Arts Council, which advises the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on whether a cultural object, intended for export, is of national importance under specified criteria.

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