Two Ladies in a Garden
Two women are depicted by a lotus pond, each holding a plum blossom in her right hand.
The woman on the left wears a ghagra (a full skirt), a long-sleeved blouse and a diaphanous long headdress, odhni. The pale blue skirt has a floral pattern, gold embroidery and a gold and pink undergarment. On her forehead, there is a red ruby set within a pearl roundel; she also has pearl earrings, bracelets and anklets, and on her feet, she wears tiny slippers. The woman on the right facing her is similarly dressed and wears jewelled armlets, bracelets and a gold necklace and strings of pearls. Both women have almond shaped, brown eyes, and their complexion is delicate light pink, with shading around the noses and necks. The skin colour of the woman on the right is light pink with a natural undertone. The woman on the left is holding onto a branch of a young, flowering plum tree (prunus) whilst the other female is holding one of the ends of her odhni, the delicate textile motifs of which can be seen against her left arm. The light blue sky fades into pink at the horizon. The landscape consists of hills, shrubs and scattered small flowers and the very dark green, at times blue colour of the bushes and the brown hills can be compared to those in 18th century Chinese reverse glass paintings. Although the luminous blue sky with pink horizon is portrayed in Indian miniatures from the 17th century onwards, similarly painted horizons are typical of the late 18th–19th century Chinese export paintings, ultimately derived from European pictorial representation (for two 18th century Indian miniatures in the British Museum, see 1920, 09126.96.36.199 and 1974, 06188.8.131.52. For a depiction of the pink sky at the horizon in a Chinese export painting, dated 1785–1815, see E79708 Peabody Essex Museum).
The women’s facial features with tonal shading and their delicately painted eyebrows and fingers are characteristics of figural depiction in Chinese export art whilst their jewellery and elaborately patterned costumes are Indian. The subject matter of a woman holding a flower, often a lotus in her hand, is found in Indian miniatures, and symbolises a divine perfection. The plum blossom is a feature in Chinese traditional painting, and amongst its other virtues, symbolises beauty and purity.
Part of a Series of Reverse Glass Paintings.
These six reverse glass paintings were produced by Chinese artists for an elite Indian clientele. There was not only a high demand for Chinese reverse glass paintings in Europe and America, but they were also exported from the mid-18th century onwards to the west coast of India by Parsi traders. By the late-18th century Chinese commercial artists had settled in western India to produce such paintings. These included Chinese artists who were employed at the royal courts of the princely states, for example, Kutch and Mysore.
The reverse glass painting technique originated in 15th–16th century Europe, and it is thought that Jesuit missionaries introduced it to China, where reverse glass paintings were made as early as the 1730s. They became very popular in the Chinese export art trade, which began in the 18th century and reached its height between 1800–1850, catering for the demand in the West for paintings and porcelain made in China. Guangzhou (Canton) was the centre of production for export art, including reverse glass paintings.
In export art, the Chinese artists applied European visual representation together with Chinese artistic features. Thus, the end result was a hybrid product made to meet Western demand and taste for the exotic but with some familiar characteristics to the intended viewer. As the term implies, in reverse glass paintings, the artist paints the image in reverse on the back of a sheet of glass, using a master drawing to transpose the outline, to which colours were applied, beginning with any shading and highlighting and followed by the body colour. At the end of the process, the glass is turned over and the finished picture is viewed from the front, unpainted side of the glass.
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