In this article we will discuss about the significance of paintings in Indian History:- 1. Debasement Ripened 2. Portrait Painting 3. Qalams 4. Flora and Fauna in Indian Painting 5. Rajasthani Painting 6. Pahari Painting 7. Kangra Style 8. Ivory and Palm Leaf Painting 9. Folk Form of Bengal 10. British Painters.


  1. Debasement Ripened
  2. Portrait Painting
  3. Qalams
  4. Flora and Fauna in Indian Painting
  5. Rajasthani Painting
  6. Pahari Painting
  7. Kangra Style
  8. Ivory and Palm Leaf Painting
  9. Folk Form of Bengal
  10. British Painters

1. Debasement Ripened:

Like architecture in the field of painting also the Mughal period had reached a signifi­cant stage of development. Simultaneously with the Mughals, this art also flourished in the Courts of Rajasthan. The Mughal Emp­erors were great patrons of painting and as such the Mughal Painting was virtually Court Painting. With the disintegration of Mughal Empire, the art of painting suffered no less than architecture.


It conti­nued to enjoy the royal patronage in a limited way under Farrukh- siyyar (1713-1718), Muhammad Shah (1719-1748) and Ahmad Shah (1748-1754), but the old pattern of royal patronage ended for all times to come. The Kings now took recourse to patronage for painting more as a pastime and a way to keep themselves away from the onerous job of running the administration than as a piece of creative art.

That there was no real or sincere interest therein is provided by the fact that Muhammad Shah gave away to Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh of Jaipur, Akbar’s Illustrated copy of the Persian ver­sion of the Mahabharata, the Razanama, which was one of the price­less possessions of the Mughal imperial library.

The painters were now mostly called to portray the Court beauties and the main themes selected for representation were the harem scenes, love episo­des, drinking parties, musical concerts, acrobatic adventures, and the like.

There was a loss of fineness and precision of drawing, strength and vitality of composition, and balance and harmony of colour scheme. Gradually with the debasement of form and increasing stylization Mughal painting towards the end of the eighteenth century sank into a bazar craft engaged in turning out miniatures on ivory in and around Delhi.


2. Portrait Painting:

Portrait painting which was one of the greatest contributions of the Mughals continued to retain its glory to some extent till the middle of the eighteenth century. It also, however, degenerated subsequently into a bazar art.

With the dimming of the luster of the imperial court the artists, depending much on patronage, began to desert the decaying centre for the more congenial courts of the emerging princes, some of whom tried to rival the splendour of the imperial court even in its most flourishing days.

Percy Brown has observed that “the change of environment in each case led to a corresponding change in the style of their art,” each of an individual character and thus distinguished from the other. Mughal painting thus lost its oneness and the word qalam came into use as a convenient term to designate every one of these local styles.


In the north, four such qalams, offshoots of the Mughal school, have been recognised, namely, Delhi, Murshidabad, Patna and Lucknow.

3. Qalams:

The sources for studying the qalams are often scattered and strayed outside India. So much so that practically in any standard book on Indian art, normally the discussion of painting ends with the Mughal period.

Until and unless the diffused sources for the post-Mughal period are studied at length no critical study of the offshoots of Mughal painting can be attempted. Pending it, only a general description of the different qalams can be given.

The Delhi qalam was affected by the declining state of affairs  of the Mughal Empire and the painting of this qalam developed coarseness far ahead of those associated with the puppet Mughals. The Murshidabad qalam had a brief spell to flourish in the mid- eighteenth century corresponding to the short period of prosperity enjoyed by the Bengal Nawabs.

The Patna qalam, though in a sense associated with the decadent Murshidabad qalam, is more an Anglo-Indian style than Indian, far less Mughal. The Lucknow qalam began at Faizabad, the first capital of Oudh Nawabs, with a certain promise, and at Lucknow it enjoyed a transient glory in the second half of the eighteenth century, when this Court vied with that of the Mughals in pomp and magnificence.

The Murshidabad qalam emerged about 1720 with works pro­duced in Mughal fashion, formal and rigid to a certain extent. It appears that Ali Vardi Khan during his last years had showed some interest in painting.

The paintings that were produced between seventeen fifty and seventeen fifty-five, although in the Mughal style, have got a certain freshness in respect of composition, precise draughtsman ship; restrained colour scheme, delineation of action and mood, and an individualistic treatment of the landscape.

This period lasted a short while. The works created during the brief regime of Siraj-ud-Daulah retained these qualities, but after him the products were commonplace and insignificant.

4. Flora and Fauna in Indian Painting:

On the decadent Murshidabad style emerged the Patna qalam under the patronage and tutelage of the British. The officers of the East India Company were its chief patrons who had their miniature portraits made on the western style.

The Indian artists were also required to paint Indian flora and fauna for the purposes of documentation and illustration. There are quite mature painting and can be success­fully compared with those of Jahangir’s times. The other products, most of which are hybrid Anglo-Indian type, are devoid of any feeling.

Lucknow school, originally followed the Mughal trend, soon developed into an original school. From the beginning the works were sensuous and sentimental in impact. The chief exponent of this school was Mir Kalan Khan who lived about 1770 and produced some of the best miniatures of this style.

Gradually, however, under the impact of the British, the Lucknow Nawabs, developed a taste for oil paintings and in the nineteenth century, like architecture, the paintings of the century were marked by extravagant tastes often leading to garish and vulgar effect.

5. Rajasthani Painting:

The Rajasthani School developed as a sister school of the Mughals. Both these schools practically deve­loped simultaneously and in a sense each may be described to be a synthetic tradition. Each had its impact on the other.

Rajasthani style had sufficiently influenced the Mughal art of painting during the days of Akbar and similarly the Mughal painting had also influ­enced the Rajasthani art particularly that of the States subservient to the Mughal Court.

It should, however, be noted that whatever Mughal traits the Rajasthani painting borrowed, it soon adopted and acclimatized to its basic form and traditions. Such was practically the case with the Mewar painting. It has been observed by one scholar: “The Mughal influence, not felt directly for Mewar was not closely associated with the Court, had refined the drawing, enriched the palette and in some respects simplified the design, but the core of tie style remains Indian.”

In the Rajasthani school of painting there were a number of styles and modes. A few have their own individual traits such as Bundi, Kota and Kishangarh. The existence of a Bundi style in the seventeenth century is well evidenced by the sumptuous paintings in a manuscript of the Bhagavata Purana and number of Ragamala sets to be dated about 20 to 25 years later.

During the time of Raja Umed Singh (1771-1820), the Bundi style developed into an indivi­dual form, and in this period paintings became an important activity in Kota.

These paintings were exquisite of arts. Technically they were highly accomplished and aesthetically and pleasingly organised. During the time of Raja Ram Singh (1828-1866) this style retained its traditional features but now had also absorbed European elements particularly in case of landscapes. Under Raja Chhattar Singh deterioration set in with loud and garish brush-work.

In the eighteenth century an individual style flourished in the small State of Kishangarh under the patronage of Maharaja Savant Singh who became King in 1748. This art got its best expression in the paintings of Nihal Chand, a gifted artist in Savant Singh’s Court.

Basing his painting on the early eighteenth century Mughal technique and compositions, Nihal Chand gave expression to his patron’s lyrical passion. The style that he introduced continued to flourish till early nineteenth century.

6. Pahari Painting:

The art of painting that developed in the Punjab region also forms an important area in the history of Indian painting. This is known as Pahari or hill school. Some scholars tend to put both Rajput and Punjab paintings under the head of Rajput art.

The earliest expression of the hill painting came from Basholi, a small city situated between Chenab and Ravi. The themes of the most of these paintings are love and emotion drawn from the Krishna legend and from a text called Rasamanjari. Loud colours have been used in these paintings charged with emotion. These compositions are generally characterised by a rugged strength and vitality.

Along with Basholi, other centres of art such as Jammu and Jasrota also flourished mainly due to their geographical proximity. Raja Balwant Singh of Jammu was a great patron of painting and Nain Sukh of Jasrota flourished during his and Raja Goverdhan Singh’s times.

7. Kangra Style:

The next important of the styles that flour­ished in the Punjab was that of Kangra. Beginning in the reign of Raja Sansar Chand, the style continued to be popular till the close of the nineteenth century.

Of the painters who were known in this style mention can be made of Fattu, Parkhu and Khushan Lal or Khushala. Khushala was the nephew of Nain Sukh. As a deve­lopment upon Guler style (Goverdhan Singh’s time), Kangra intensi­fied the characteristics of the Guler style.

The legend of Lord Krishna, Radha and the Gopies have been extensively used in this art and main thrust is on the themes of Vaishnava cult. It has been said that “in the perfection of drawing, in the subtle and organic-relationship between line and colour schemes, in a rhythmic and lyrical quality, in the rendering of emotions and moods together with a fluid naturalism, in romantic charm and delicacies, the Kangra style constitute an outstanding achievement in the history of Indian art. It is at Kangra that one may recognize a complete and success­ful fusion of the Mughal manner and technique with Pahari idiom in its Hindu characterization.” To sum up, Kangra painting is, “a glorious contribution of the Mughal line and Hindu spirit”.

8. Ivory and Palm Leaf Painting:

In South local style deve­loped in this art. In this one can mention those of Tanjore and Mysore. In the early part of the nineteenth century, under Raja Krishna Udaiyar of Mysore, there is a record of local style of painting in the State, much of which consisted of paintings on ivory.

The Orissa specialty was the palm-leaf manuscript painting done with style. Though sharp and angular, they evinced a certain vivacity in composition. During the nineteenth century emphasis shifted towards more decorative forms. The icons made of clothes and paper continued to survive as an art, particularly in Puri, and were distinctive for their bright colour and beautiful decorations.

9. Folk Form of Bengal:

In Bengal, painting flourished mostly in its folk form. The style that was most popular was Pata which can be found in Kalighata.’ As Calcutta grew into a metropolis, the importance of Kalighata increased as a pilgrimage centre.

Many of the folk painters from the villages came and settled near Kalighata and sold their paintings. Ajit Ghosh, an art connoisseur, who was the first person to recognise the excellence of this style, has written : “The drawing is made with one bold sweep of the brush in which not the faintest suspicion of even a momentary indecision, not the slightest, tremor, can be detected. Often the line takes in the whole figure in such a way that it defies you to say where artist’s brush first touched the paper or where it finished its work.”

10. British Painters:

So far as the British painters were concern­ed, their paintings in India during the period under survey can be broadly classified under two heads; the amateur and the professional. Starting with Tilly Kettle who arrived in Madras in 1769 there were a host of painters who followed. Tilly Kettle who was in India from 1769 to 1776 painted in oil.

Others like John Zoffany, in India (1783-89) and Arthur Devis, in India (1785-95) also painted in oil and like Kettle their works were ravaged by the climate, and expensive to ship back to England because of their size. Under such circumstances the miniature painters had the advantage.

John Smart, in India (1785-95) and Ozaris Humphry (1785-87) were most important but they are followed by others almost as competent. In the early nineteenth century, George Chinnary, in India (1802-25) had the greatest reputation among the British.

Some Indian potentates got their portraits painted by European artists. The courts of the rulers of Oudh and Lucknow attracted European painters at an early stage. During the reign of Ghazi-ud- din (1814-27), Robert Home was to all intents and purposes a Court painter.

All these artists painted in oil but the most popular medium was water-colour. Water-colour drawings were mostly meant as studies for engravings, aquatints and, later, for lithographs. Since in England picturesque engravings of natural beauty was very popu­lar; therefore, painters visited India in search of subjects.

William Hodges began his tours in India in 1780 and produced his Select Views, London (1786). Thomas Daniel and his nephew, William, stayed in India for eight years (1786-94) and produced their first work in Calcutta (1786 88), following it up with four volumes of Oriental Scenery, London (1795-1808).

The Daniels were followed by others who, with them, helped to create for people in Britain an idealized and picturesque India which must have seemed oddly at variance with the descriptions of travellers and later, of missionaries.

Captain Williamsons’ Oriental Field Sports was published in 1807; Captain Grind lay’s Scenery, Costumes and Architecture in 1826. These were the results of growing interests in India caused by the picturesque paintings on India and its life styles.

Travellers did sketches to illustrate their books. Perhaps the most important of these amateur artists was Sir Charles D’Oyly, who lived at Patna. D’Oyly, who had taken lessons from Chinnary, produced a number of books of illustrations on his own lithographic press, and opened a new landmark in the history of painting. It were the British who thus introduced professional painting which could continue and flourish without royal or State patronage.