The collection is a unique blend of religion, colour and craft.

Glowing with muted radiance in countless homes and temples for more than 200 years, Thanjavur art and Mysore glass paintings have celebrated stories from the epics and the imagery of gods and goddesses in a unique amalgamation of art, religion, colour and craft. The artists who perfected Thanjavur art in the Maratha court of King Serfoji and Mysore glass art at the ateliers of the Mysore maharajas have also left behind a pictorial record of the ruling monarchs, courtiers and aristocracy, the fashions, foibles and artefacts of the era in a series of frames many of which have survived to this day in museums and family archives. One such collection is that of S. Subbarao’s Thanjavur and Mysore glass art, which is more than 100-150 years old. The 50-60 strong collection is being displayed at an exhibition titled ‘Antique Paintings and Prints’ which opens at Lakshmi Ethiraj Art Gallery today.

While most of the antique paintings have been restored to their original look, a few wait to be touched up - their flaking paint, faded patches and broken frames wearing the timeless charm and patina of history. Among the masterpieces of Thanjavur art are a resplendent Lakshmi done in pink, Serfoji with his queen dressed in hand block printed and zari bordered robes, a 24” x15” Vinayaka – a study in impeccable brush strokes and a harmonious blending of soft vegetable colours. Subtly painted Radha Krishna in Ras Leela, a wonderful 150-year-old Siva Parvati and a ‘butter Krishna’ are many of the gems on view. But the highlight is the Raja Rani portrait with the Raja bedecked in embroidered toppi and sherwani strewn with rose motifs.

The Mysore glass painting section casts its own spell. The pictures of Satyanarayana with Narada and a 150-year-old Kamadhenu are perfect in their harmony of line colour and the story they tell. The portrait of Ramar Pattabishekam is in aesthetic perfection while Radha Krishna frames captivate with their sense of muted colourful movement.

For the antique look

According to artisan Syed Mohammad Salim, who has restored many of the paintings, the focus is to keep the ‘antique’ look. “To make the colours look dull in a Thanjavur painting we mix a little white in all the colours. And for the old gold effect we paint over with a coat of orange. The brush strokes should be very light to get the antique effect and for the embossed look we use chalk powder and Arabic gum which was traditionally used. I use enamel colours for glass art. I create the base with white water-based plastic emulsion and then paint in dull colours to match the old vegetable dyes. Damaged frames are restored by wood craft artisans. Antique Paintings and Prints has a section of old Ravi Varma prints of Saraswati and Lakshmi dressed in specially created saris with gold motifs. Also on display are antique original litho prints. In tune with the antique theme the exhibition presents pen and ink sketches of old Madras and a cross section of its people.

Also on view are antique 150-year-old frames of teak wood, rose wood, zari, stained glass pieces and beaten brass. Antique Paintings and Prints is on at Lakshmi Ethiraj Art Gallery, 70 1st Floor, 1st Main Road, CIT Nagar ,T. Nagar, from today to July 15. Contact 98400 92435.