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Lovers in Dalliance
Attributed to Chokha, active 1800-25
India (Rajasthan, Mewar), 1800-25
Pigments on paper, 8 9/16 x 6 3/8 in (21.7 x 16.2 cm)
Published: Welch 1973, p.52, no. 24; Craven 1997, p. 230, fig. 188; Desai 1985, p.95-96, no. 76
Catalogue #95

This is the best known and most admired of all Indian pictures in the Ford collection. For a painting that is only about nine by six inches in size it packs a lot of punch. The reason for its appeal is easy to perceive. Apart from the erotic nature of its subject, it is an aesthetic tour de force with audacious and voluptuous colors and forms. The artist has brilliantly captured the intimacy of a couple utterly self absorbed and filled with desire.

That artist almost certainly was Chokha, the son of the equally talented Bagata, who flourished during the first quarter of the nineteenth century. Both worked in the ancient state of Mewar, better known at this time as Udaipur and famous today for its romantic pleasure palace and hotel in the middle of a lake. Few pictures capture the amorous mood with such aesthetic aplomb as this masterpiece. With an inspired leap of imagination, the master has transported the lovers from a timebound earthly spot to an enchanted zone of love where time stands still. Yet, if the lover is Prince Amar Singh of Udaipur, as has Leon suggested, then the terrace on which they cavort may be the palace on the lake, with hazy, blue-green waters beyond the balustrade and the hint of a monsoon sky above. The picture is a brilliant synthesis of abstract symbolism and concrete physicality. The languidly entwined bodies of the lovers express longing only with their eyes, even while the hot colors of the profligately strewn cushions reflect their burning desire.

If, indeed, this is an idealized representation of Amar Singh, then Chokha may have painted it in Udaipur rather than Devgarh. But the question that cannot be answered is whether this is a commissioned record of a real occasion or a figment of Chokha's imagination, one to be offered as a tribute (nazr) on a special occasion.

Detail: close-up

all text and images © The Trustees of the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore


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