Unlike the Mughal miniatures which were framed with sumptuous borders made of gold-flecked, painted, gilded and marbled paper, the borders of the Pahari works were mostly painted in one bold colour. The conservation and research was founded by METAMORFOZE NL.
This aspect is highlighted in a nineteenth-century painting from Kangra, which depicts Usha looking at the portrait of Aniruddha. The paintings of her lover that the heroine is examining are framed by borders painted in red, yellow and blue. Usha viewing the portrait of Aniruddha, Kangra style, ca. 1820, Victoria & Albert Museum, IS.11-1968.
It seems that the artist Pahari did not master the technique of paper dyeing, as colored paper is never found around the paintings. Of course, yarn and textile dyeing was known in the western Himalayas, Chamba being particularly famous for the art of rumal, a cotton muslin embroidered with colored silk threads. Rumal, Krishna playing his flute or talking to the female cow-herds (gopis) 18th century, Chamba, Victoria & Albert Museum, IS.23-1983.
In addition, there are nineteenth-century depictions of artisans from the Punjab plains dyeing cloth, such as these two dyers who are filtering a red dye and dyeing a cloth. An album of sixty paintings depicting Sikh rulers, monuments, and trades people, Punjab, probably Lahore, circa 1840-60, Bonhams LOT 214A Islamic and Indian Art March 2022 London.
The technique of dyeing paper was not so different from that of cloth, as these two marginalia from the Jahangir album (Staatbibliotheek Berlin) show. On the left, a craftsman pours the dye from a ewer into a sieve and, on the right, another man delicately pulls the dyed paper from the dye bath. However, it is plausible to think that the Pahari painters had neither the tools, the knowledge, not the desire or the need to engage in this craft that required different technique and materials than that of painting.
Early paintings from Basolhi have borders that consist of simple flat applications of yellow, blue or red, echoing the strong contours and sumptuous colours of the composition. These borders are of a suitable width to accommodate annotations such as the episode number of the series and the title or the name of the patron.One episode of a series of paintings illustrating the Rasamanjari or ‘blossom-cluster of delight’ by the poet Bhanudatta, which describes and classifies the behaviour of lovers.Basohli ca.1660- 1670, Victoria & Albert Museum, IS.52-1953.
The paintings of Mankot, Jammu, Chamba, Mandi and Guler prior to and after 1800 maintained this tradition, especially for the portraits of rulers sitting on carpets and smoking the huqqa. Portrait of Umed Singh of Chamba (1748-1764), in a green robe leaning against a bolster with profile to the left; smoking a hookah.The scene is framed by a narrow black border and a wide red border with white ruled lines, Chamba, ca. 1760, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, RP-T-1993-292
In Pahari paintings, the blue borders were painted with indigo, a dye that was made into a pigment to adhere to the paper. Depending on how the indigo was prepared, the blue colour of the borders was more or less pronounced and deep. Pahari artists used mainly indigo as a blue. Lapis lazuli was used in early paintings and was reserved for the most important part of the composition, not for large areas such as borders, as it was expensive. Lapis was not sourced in India but was imported from mines in Afghanistan. Azurite was also part of the artist’s palette but was not used for borders either.
Portrait of Raja Prakash Chand of Guler and Raja Bhup Singh of Guler, Guler, first quarter of the 19th century, Museum Volkenkunde RV-3025-81. Close ups with the dinolite of dark blue paint of the borders.
Yellow borders were painted with gaugoli (Indian yellow) or hartal (orpiment). V.C. Ohri reports that the painter Puran Chand of Samloti (Kangra) recounted that the cow’s urine was used for obtaining this yellow pigment. Cows were fed with the leaves of local plants such as simbal (Somalia malabaricum) or harad (myrobalan). Other sources reported the feeding with mango leaves in Rajasthan and Bengal. Hartal or orpiment, a toxic mineral since it contains arsenic, was widely used in art. It was readily available in local markets in the form of small stones, as it was used in Ayurvedic medicine.Painters also used cinnabar or vermilion to paint the borders red. Today, the red colour is vibrant because the mineral has been well ground and applied in thick, well-burnished layers.
Virahini Nayika braves the storm, Kangra style, Museum Volkenkunde RV-3025-54. Close ups of red paint with dinolite.
In many cases, the borders are not separate strips of paper that are added to the main support but were included in the overall composition from the beginning and painted at the end, when the painting was completed. The below image shows that the brushstrokes extend beyond the frame allotted to the painting onto the surrounding margins. In the borders, the painter has briefly wiped his brush and trained himself to draw perfectly straight lines. A princess receives a message, Kangra-Guler style, Museum Volkenkunde, RV-3025-71.
Gradually, the borders became more elaborate. For example, audacious borders were designed during the second half of the 18th century by artists belonging to the First generation after Manaku and Nainsukh. One of the most sophisticated borders is encountered in the paintings from the Bihari Satsai series whose folios are today dispersed over the world. While the outer margins made of red sprinkling were cut, the composition comprised into an oval frame painted in white, is surrounded by cornerpieces decorated with elegant arabesque in gold set against a blue background.
Therefore the scrolling motif became a recurrent pattern applied in corner pieces of an oval composition to make it rectangular. Several drawings show the process of elaborating the arabesque, drawn freehand, first in red ink, then in black ink, with some white paint used to conceal the flaws in the line. A pensive lady, Kangra style, Victoria & Albert Museum, IM.236-1924.
Another common design, which was developed during the eighteenth century, became widespread in the nineteenth century: red dashes on a pink background. This decorative technique was labour intensive, as the dashes had to be evenly distributed, one by one, in quincunx, over the entire surface. Portrait of Sardar Visava Singh of Sandawalia with his courtiers in a garden, painted by Sajju, circa 1820, Museum Volkenkunde, RV-3025-83.
The borders were also simply decorated with red stipples obtained by sprinkling red paint with a brush or another tool on a background previously painted in pale pink. This was a quick and easy way to effectively fill in the borders.The encounter of a dandy with a suthrasahi member, attributed to Nikka of Guler (c. 1745–1833), second son of Nainsukh, by Eberhard Fischer, Museum Volkenkunde, RV-3025-64.
In addition, the images were often surrounded by a narrow band of yellow or gold scrolling with silver or white flowers and red dots set on a dark blue background. This motif, with many variations, was recurrent and found in many paintings after 1800. Details of the folio showing Devi and Shiva enthroned, Kangra-Mandi style, ca.1830, Museum Volkenkunde, RV-3025-34. The oval painting is framed by cornerpieces decorated with vegetal scrolling on a yellow background. The whole is surrounded by a band of gold and silver floral scrolling painted on a black background and a series of three red rulings.The outer borders are made of pink painted paper sprinkled with red paint.
The research and conservation project that took place at the Museum Volkenkunde in Leiden was an opportunity to conserve some of the painting borders. These were physically reinforced and aesthetically preserved in order to restore the visual unity of the entire work. The missing areas were filled in and sympathetically toned to give more coherence to the whole painting. For example, the dark blue borders of the folio showing Raja Prakash Chand of Guler and Raja Bhup Singh of Guler were very much deteriorated and could not be handled safely. Therefore, the delaminated edges were reinforced by inserting thick handmade paper and the areas of losses in the paint were tone with watercolour.
In two cases, an entire border was missing. Therefore it was decided to replace it, but not to adhered it directly to the original painted support as we wanted an addition that would be easily reversible. To do this, a strip of thick handmade paper was painted in the same colour as the original and adhered to the window mount with Beva film. The painting was then mounted on the window mount with small hinges made of Japanese tissue paper adhered on the backside.The addition is easily discernible and removable. Portrait of lady reading a religious book, RV-3025-79.
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