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Prabal Pramanik's Academy of Arts
Bhamlada, Punjab -145 022, India
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ISBN No. 978-93-81200-03-2
|"Portraits" in Pahari paintings
Feudal rulers of
the hill states and aristrocratic dignitaries often wanted their own "portraits"
to be painted.
The pictures produced by the artists of Pahari Schools of art, to fulfil the demand of
portraits of their clients and patrons are not actual portraits in the true sense, but are
representative paintings that show perhaps some similarities with some features of the
It seems that the subjects were more concerned with the grand setting of the pictures to
show off their high positions than in true similarities.
These pictures have certain peculiarities. They very often show the face in profile form.
Most often the faces of the subjects display a formal type of benign expression.
It is highly unlikely that all these feudal rulers and their officials really had that
benign expression as many of them were cruel and immersed in petty power politics.
The artists of Pahari schools of art had to please their patrons so true characterization
More over, it seems, characterization was little cared for in Pahari schools of art in a
realistic way generally when painting portraits.
In large number of paintings, I have noticed that facial expressions except when
indicating old age and childhood are more or less the same causing set backs in character
This is a strange statement indeed about schools of art where pictures of rulers and
dignitaries were common. The rulers were generally shown with the same benign expression
which obviously the rulers liked.
There must have been many features on each individual face, but the artists ignored those
Much more attention was given to dress or ornaments than on character portrayal. Without
the individualistic emphasis on character portrayal, the pictures of rulers and wazirs can
not be called portraits in the true sense. Depiction of age and penury were done in a
stylized way, yet other marks of individual character except mustachios and beards were
not so often shown.
Hands are a part of human character, and they express a lot too, but in Pahari art the
stylized way of depicting hands have left little opportunity to characterize hands.
This particular problem is seen in many traditional art schools in Indian subcontinent.
Lack of the use of light and shade to create three dimensional effects also is a cause why
detailed and realistic characterization was not possible.
Yet, undoubtedly the patrons were pleased with whatever they got as their
"portraits", as they did not have the exposure to European style portraits.
With the introduction of European style art to royal courts in the hill states, and the
arrival of European artists, the "portraiture" in Pahari art style was not
preferred, and Pahari art schools continued to paint and reproduce other subjects.
From 20th century, photography was the preferred medium for portraits amongst dignitaries
in the hill states.
Prabal Pramanik ©
(from the published book
"My views on Pahari paintings")
ISBN No. 978-93-81200-03-2