An imageniry city with Indian and European architecture

When the lockdown is over, hopefully at the beginning of June, I will be starting a conservation and research project at the Volkenkunde Museum in Leiden (in other words, the Museum of Ethnology). During two years, I will be studying and conserving a collection of drawings and paintings from north-west India. The collection which previously belonged to Prof. Jean-Philippe Vogel, comprises around 150 drawings and paintings from the Punjab and the Pahari lands (today Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand) popularly known as “Pahari miniature painting”. The word “Pahar“, meaning from the hills, relates as to the western foothill of Himalaya which hosted the kingdoms of Kangra, Guler, Chamba, Basolhi, Bislapur, among others. The collection covers a large diversity of themes and reflects the interactions between indigenous traditions, European and Mughal cultures. The works illustrate Hindu narratives (Ramayana, Vikramaditya, Karita-Arjuna, etc.), vernacular poetry (Ragamalas), portraits of rulers and historical figures, and comprise also some interesting examples inspired by the Western culture or made for Europeans, the so-called ‘company painting’ (views of the Kangra valley sites, studies of local birds, view of Lahore fort). These constitute a considerable visual resource which illustrates the history and traditions of the region and emphasizes the techniques and the craftsmanship of the Indian artists. For instance, in a drawing from the Ramayana epic, illustrating the fight between Sugriva and Vali, the first outline of the composition was made with charcoal, then a rough sketch was drawn with a yellow ink, and the final composition was executed with a stronger black line and the corrections were made over an opaque white wash applied to conceal the flaws (Fig.1, 2, 3, 4).

The fight between Sugriva and Vali, a Ramayana episode, preparatory drawing, Kangra, 1800-1830. RV-3025-2
Fig.1 The fight between Sugriva and Vali, a Ramayana episode, preparatory drawing, Kangra, 1800-1830. RV-3025-2.
Fig.2 detail showing the corrections made with white washes.
Fig.3 detail of the secondary outline made with yellow ink.
Fig.4 detail of the first outline made with charcoal (monkeys).

Prof.Jean-Philippe Vogel (1871-1958) was a Dutch sanskritist and epigraphist (Fig.5). From 1901-1910, he was superintendent of the Northern Circle (present-day Pakistan, Kashmir, Punjab) of the Archaeological Survey of India. Then, from 1910 to 1912, he occupied the eminent position of Officiating Director General of the same institution. Upon his return to the Netherlands, he occupied the Chair of Sanskrit and Indian Archaeology at the Leiden University from 1914-1939 and founded the Kern Institute in 1925, together with N. J. Krom. Vogel was an eminent personality who contributed to the set up of Indian Studies in the Netherlands, and, therefore to the stimulation of the interest and the contribution of a further generation of Dutch scholars in the field.

Fig. 5 Portrait of Jean Philippe Vogel sitting behind his desk at Benmore residence, Shimla, 1908. kern Institute.

The present collection, today held at the Museum Volkenkunde, represents his legacy and epitomizes his passion and expertise for Indian paintings. He also contributed to the creation of the Bhuri Singh Museum in Chamba in 1908 and donated a part of his collection for the opening (Fig.6) [1]. Behind much of his works, one suspects his ambition to mediate between East and West and to connect the “Old World” with the “New South Asia”. In that sense, the artworks are directly inscribed in the context of global history which took place during the turn of the nineteenth century. These paintings hold a key to the discovery and knowledge on the European colonies by creating a visual imaginary of people and places and in the understanding of the encounters between Europeans and Mughal and Pahari cultures. They emphasize the fascination from the Westerners towards an “Exotic India”, land of conflicted sentiments: curiosity, delights and wonder but also, a contrario, incomprehension, disdain and repulsion.

[1] Personal diary of year 1908 and catalogue of the Bhuri Singh Museum collection.

Fig.6 The opening of the Bhuri Singh Museum in Chamba in 1908.Vogel is sitting in the middle, wearing a dark suit with an hat on his laps. In:Gerda Theuns-De Boer. 2008. A vision of splendour: Indian heritage in the photographs of Jean Philippe Vogel, 1901-1913

Little is known about his collecting practice but, according to his writing, Vogel was particularly interesting in portraits of historical figures such a Sikh and Pahari rulers (Fig.7) [1]. He purchased himself some of the works from art dealers in Amritsar and Lahore. At the back side of some works are annotated the prices in rupees and few attributions. We also know that in 1905, while he was surveying stone carvings and inscriptions in the Kangra valley, he met a descendant of the Kangra artists in search for a new patron to whom he bought a set of drawings [2]. In the 1910s, Vogel gave another portion of his collection to the Lahore Museum [3]. The remaining pieces were brought back to the Netherlands and were donated to the Museum in 1959. A series of 24 drawings of birds stands out for its naturalist depictions of the avian fauna of the region. It is said that he acquired this series because of his name, Vogel meaning bird in Dutch [4]. Particularly striking are the representations of the Indian crested cuckoo, the spotted quail and the crimson woodpecker reunited on the same sheet of local handmade paper (Fig.8). Similar series are holdings of the Victoria & Albert museum in London and Chandigarh Government Museum and Art Gallery in India, although the museum Volkenkunde’s pieces were certainly the preparatory studies which served for the elaboration of the finished works held in the English and Indian museums.

[1] Personal Diaries held at the Leiden University Library. [2] F.S. Aijazuddin. 1977. Catalogue of Lahore museum, Pahari Paintings and Sikh Portraits in the Lahore Museum, London: Sotheby Parke Bernet Publications. [3] Idem. [4] Chutiwongs N and Gupta P. The sentiment of Love: A Selection of Indian Miniatures from the Collection of the National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden.

ortrait of the sikh sardar Visava Singh of Sandhawalia, by Chajju, opaque watercolour and gold paint on handmade paper pasteboard. c. 1800-1810. RV-3025-83
Fig.7 Portrait of the sikh sardar Visava Singh of Sandhawalia, by Chajju, opaque watercolour and gold paint on handmade paper pasteboard. c. 1800-1810. RV-3025-83.
Three birds: Indian crested cuckoo,  woodpecker and  spotted quail. Opaque watercolour and black ink on handmade Indian paper. RV-3025-121
Fig.8 Three birds: Indian crested cuckoo,  woodpecker and  spotted quail. Opaque watercolour and black ink on handmade Indian paper. RV-3025-121

Preservation wise, the artworks of the collection are in various conditions: some are in a pristine state whereas others require conservation treatment. In a drawing featuring a lady cuddling a dove, the perimeter has tears, creases and small losses which will be reinforced to prevent from further damages (Fig.9). However, the marks, stains and other workshop traces will be kept as evidences of the past life of the drawing.

A lonely lady cuddling a dove, Pahari hills, Chamba style, beginning of 19th century. RV-3025-56, Volkenkunde Museum.
FIg. 9 A lonely lady cuddling a dove, Pahari hills, Chamba style, beginning of 19th century. RV-3025-56. (illustration of the verse 665 of the Bihari Satsai). Black ink with a brush on Indian handmade paper.

On the painting depicting two Rajas from the Guler kingdom, the edges are worn and delaminated and the paints shows many losses and flaking areas. The support needs mending and the paint layers which are unstable, require a consolidation treatment (Fig.10).

Raja Prakash Chand and Raja Bhup Singh of Guler, end of the18th century, Pahari hills, Guler style, RV-3025-81, Volkenkunde Museum.
Fig. 10 Raja Prakash Chand and Raja Bhup Singh of Guler, end of the18th century, Pahari hills, Guler style, RV-3025-81.Opaque watercolour on paper pasteboard. The edges of the support are worn and delaminated and the paint layers have many pigments abrasions and losses.

The aim of the project is also to study the papers used for these works. Most of the drawings was made on native papers whereas a small group was executed on European papers. The collection epitomizes the shift which occurred in the artistic production and in the materials used, in north-west India, during the first half of the 19th century. If most of the drawings from the collection was made on native paper, a small group, executed on European paper, shows the progressive invasion of British manufactured products on the Indian markets. Traditionally, handmade papers were produced, since the 14th century in paper mills located in Kashmir and Punjab, which probably supplied the Pahari workshops (Fig.11) [1].

[1] Hunter D. Papermaking by Hand in India. New-Yok: Pynson Printers, 1939: 40 and following. Konishi, M.A. Hath-Kaghaz: History of Handmade Paper in South Asia. New-Delhi: Aryan Book International, 2013.

William Raitt, paper maker, Kashmir, 1917.
Fig. 11 Paper maker, Kashmir, photography by William Rait 1917.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the region saw the incursion of European travelers and scholars, British officials posted in the various stations of the Hills and French and Italian officers who trained and commanded Ranjit Singh’s army (Allard et Ventura, Court et Avitabile) [1]. These foreigners commissioned paintings and graphic “souvenirs”, the so-called ‘company paintings’ which depict fauna, flora, trades, occupations and casts. Hence, western papers started being imported sporadically for that purpose and the Indian artists were requested to use these papers which fitted better to the taste of their new patrons. This phenomenon is illustrated, among others, by the artworks patronized by Général Court (1793-1880) hired by Ranjit Singh in order to renovate and modernize his army. For his Mémoires, Court requested the Punjabi artist, Imam Bakhsh, to produce numerous paintings depicting the sites and folks of the region [2].

As a result, two fascinating albums held today at the Musée Guimet and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France comprise fantastic representations of landscapes, historical sites, tribes, occupations and militaries (Fig.12) [3].These were not painted on local handmade papers but on laid or wove papers bearing marks of English paper factories (Fig.13).

Bateau de l'Hydaspe, Imam Bakhsh Lahori, Mémoires du Général Court, corca 1835-4840, Paris, Musée Guimet, BG39732.
Fig. 12 Bateau de l’Hydaspe, Imam Bakhsh Lahori, Mémoires du Général Court, c.1835-1840, Paris, Musée Guimet, BG39732.
Album factice comprenant dix-neuf miniatures indiennes représentant des costumes militaires, India -1765-1947, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, ESERVE4-ZF-124.
Fig. 13 Album factice comprenant dix-neuf miniatures indiennes représentant des costumes militaires, India -1765-1947, gouache on British, blue and wove paper, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, RESERVE4-ZF-124.

[1] Lafont J-M.: La présence française dans le royaume sikh du Penjab, 1822-1849. In: Bulletin de l’Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient. Tome 81, 1994. [2] Fables d’Orient : Miniaturistes, artistes et aventuriers à la cour de Lahore, musée Guimet, Paris: RMN, 2019: 23-55. [3] See Recueil. Album factice comprenant dix-neuf miniatures indiennes représentant des costumes militaires, BNF, Paris, france.

British goods started to be imported from the end of the18th century onwards.The ships sailing from England, landed in Calcutta in Bengal. From there, the goods traveled to the north west of India during long journeys. Very few information are available on this specific topic, hence the present study hopes to shed light on the types of paper imported and used for artistic purposes and on the precise trade routes. After the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1939 (Fig.14) and both anglo-sikhs wars which opposed, in the 1840s, the British East India Trading Company along with the British Empire to the Sikh Empire, the British Raj eventually took over the administration of the north-west provinces of India, from 1849 onwards. The British not only took politic power but also controlled the whole economy of the Pahari and Punjab regions. The local manufactured products and traditional handicrafts could not compete with the importation of English goods and rapidly declined [1]. As a result, Indian artists had no other choice to procure English papers of diverse qualities which were cheap and readily available but no always durable and sympathetic. Likewise, the painting techniques and the subject matters evolved to content Europeans patrons but also Indians who were attracted by western imagery and styles. The reasons and circumstances of the decline of local handmade papers will also be explored from an artistic and social aspect in the light of the general Europeanization of practices in the region.

[1] Hunter D. 1939. Papermaking by Hand in India. New-Yok: Pynson Printers. Bansal M. C. and Mukesh K. 2001. Paper making. In History of Technology in India, ed. K. V. Mittal. New Delhi: Indian National Science Academy: 714-725.

Ranjit Singh (r.1801-1839), the first Sikh maharaja of the Panjab, C. 1835-1840. Victoria & Albert Museum, IS.480-1950.
Fig. 14 Ranjit Singh (r.1801-1839), the first Sikh maharaja of the Panjab, is depicted riding on a white stallion with an attendant following behind holding a parasol, the age-old emblem of royalty, over his head. He is dressed entirely in yellow, which may indicate that the portrait depicts him at the time of the Spring Festival when everyone wore this colour. The unknown artist has discreetly indicated the scars on his face caused by the childhood smallpox which left him blind in his left eye.
C. 1835-1840. Victoria & Albert Museum, IS.480-1950

The forthcoming study aims to understand further the visual material culture of the artworks during that peculiar time period. Therefore, paper will be studied as a technical and ethnological commodity to explore deeper the social and material significance. The research will include close-up observation with microscope and transmitted light and recording of physical features and identification of the fibres in order to characterize the various papers of the corpus (Fig.15-16-17). Since the museum owns some series of epic drawings such as the Ramayana, the Ballad of Amir Hath and the Vikramaditya, among others, the analysis and the results of consistent groups of papers, combined with historical sources and previous field surveys, will certainly enable to draw typological features and establish a refreshed classification for these papers [1].

[1] Previous field surveys and academic studies by Alexandra Soteriou, Neeta Premchand, Radha Pandey, William Raitt, Baden Powel, Emerson, Dard Hunter, etc, see bibliography. This aspect will be developed in a further post.

Portrait of Maharaja ranjit Singh, RV-3025-80, second half of 19th century.
FIg. 15 The examination of an India handmade paper on a light box reveals the imprint of laid and chain lines left by the traditional paper mould. Portrait of Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Lahore, black ink and colours on Indian handmade paper,
Portrait of Maharaja ranjit Singh, RV-3025-80, opaque watercolour and black ink on handmade Indian paper, second half of 19th century.
An elephant uproots a tree, Guler style, RV-3025-65, Volkenkunde museum.
Fig. 16 The examination of the drawing An elephant uproots a tree indicates that an European wove paper was used as a support.
19th century, Kangra-Guler style.
Yellow, black inks and watercolour on European wove paper.
A Breakaway Elephant, RV-3025-66, Volkenkunde museum.
Fig. 17 Detail of the drawing A Breakaway Elephant, RV-3025-66, showing of blue wool yarn imbedded in the paper substrate. First half of 19th century. 25 x 30,2 cm. In Kashmir, a small amount of woolen material was added in the paper pulp made of recycled materials such as bags, nets and ropes.  
The analysis of extraneous elements is a key factor in the understanding of handmade paper.

In the past, some methodologies have been set up for the description of western papers based on the examination of watermarks and on the laid and chain lines pattern [1]. A very useful and renewed approach has recently been developed by Bas van Velzen at Universiteit van Amsterdam [2]. Some attempts of classification applied to Islamic and Arab papers in particular were made by C.M. Briquet, J. von Karabacek, and M. Bet Ariet but the fact that Islamic papers do not have any watermark or paper mill mark made difficult comparison, study and typology [3]. Claude Laroque [4] and her partners already put together an useful online form to describe and study Asian papers from China, Korea and Japan. Agnieszka Helmann-Wazny, post-doctorate researcher at Hamburg university, specializing in Central Asian papers (Tiber, Nepal) has also developed significant methods to characterize non-laid papers. All of these tool can be used as good basis for the study of South Asian papers. However, a “custom-made” methodology should be developed for the specificities of South-Asian papers, and this is precisely what the present project aims to.

[1] Hunter D. 1978. Papermaking: The History and Technique of an Ancient Craft. New York: Dover Publications. See watermarks repertoires Briquet, Bernstein, etc. [2] van Velzen, S.T.J. The universe between felt and wire A new look into the typology of Western made paper, PhD dissertation, 2018. [3] Summarized in Helen Loveday, 2001: 55-87. [4] Dr. Claude Laroque is paper conservator in France and lecturer at Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne university.

The project is funded by Metamorfoze and Boumeester Foundation.

Further reading

Baden Powel.1872. Hand-Book of the Manufactures & Arts of the Punjab : With a Combined Glossary & Index of Vernacular Trades & Technical Terms … Forming Vol. II to the Hand-Book of the Economic Products of the Punjab Prepared Under the Orders of Government, Lahore.

Gerda Theuns-De Boer. 2008. A vision of splendour: Indian heritage in the photographs of Jean Philippe Vogel, 1901-1913, Mapin in association with the Kern Institute, Ahmedabad.

Hubbe, M. Bowden C. Handmade paper: A review of its history, craft, and science, in Bioresources 4(4), 2009: 1736-1792.

Hunter, D. 1939. Papermaking by Hand in India. New-Yok: Pynson Printers.

Konishi, M.A. 2013. Hath-Kaghaz: History of Handmade Paper in South Asia. New-Delhi: Aryan Book International.

Loveday, H. 2001. Islamic paper: a study of the ancient craft. Archetype Publications.

Vogel J.P. 1909. Catalogue of the Bhuri Singh Museum at Chamba. Calcutta: Baptist Mission Press.

Lafont, J.M. 2002. Maharaja Ranjit Singh: Lord of the Five Rivers. OUP India Publication.

Painters of the Pahari schools, ed. by Ohri V.C. and Craven R.C. Mumbai: Marg Publications on behalf of the National Centre for the Performing Arts, 1998.

Soteriou, A. 2006. Gifts of Conquerors : Hand Papermaking in India. Grantha Corporation.


    1. Dear Asok,
      Thank you for your kind feeback. This collection is indeed unknown and one of the aims of the project is to make it accessible to the public and to display regularly in rotation some of the pieces. I will be posting regular updates on the project. All best,

      Liked by 1 person

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