Chennai hosts an art exhibit showcasing Pichwai, some dating back 350 years

Head to Collage for a crash course on Pichwai as the space hosts paintings from all four schools of the art form, some dating back 350 years

October 27, 2023 11:34 am | Updated 11:34 am IST

Pichwai art at Collage, Nungambakkam

Pichwai art at Collage, Nungambakkam | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

When Gajendra Kumar Singh started collecting Pichwai art in the 1950s, he had no idea that he was building a legacy. Today, paintings from his collection hang at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and — for just this weekend — Chennai’s Collage.

The collector’s granddaughter, Nikita Singh, studied art restoration, specialising in Indian art from the Victoria Albert Museum in England. With a Masters in Museology and Art Appreciation, Nikita worked at the National museum, archiving and documenting Ancient Indian art. Along with her sister, Chandni Singh, she runs Bangla 123, a concept store in Delhi focused on art, especially the large Pichwai collection they have inherited.

Over a call, Nikita explains how the paintings which originated in Nathdwara, about 70 kilometres from Udaipur, are always done on cloth, usually khadi.

Pichwai art at Collage, Nungambakkam

Pichwai art at Collage, Nungambakkam | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“The artists use stone pigments, especially for gold and silver tones. The brighter orange, red, chrome yellow and kesari colours come from vegetable dyes,” she says, explaining how the detailed work is painstakingly painted. “The cloth has to be put flat on the group, and a painting that is five feet by eight, for example, will take three months to complete, which makes it quite challenging for the older artists.”

When Nikita’s grandfather got into Pichwai, she says he pioneered some modern themes in the work. “In 1955 or so, he commissioned about 20 artists to reproduce traditional Pichwais, but suggested putting polka dots on the cows, or hand prints on them, which gave them a more contemporary feel,” she says. 

While most of their buyers were abroad in the 1970s, she says that has changed. For the last 10 years, Pichwai has been flourishing. “Post Covid especially, more people are spending money on art,” says Nikita, adding that they are seeing a surge of younger buyers. As a result, some younger artists who moved to other cities and towns in search of work, are now returning to their hometowns in Rajasthan to resume learning the techniques from their fathers and grandfathers.

Nikita Singh, Curator

Nikita Singh, Curator | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

At the Collage show, Nikita will be bringing about four catalogue pieces from her personal collection, the oldest of which is about 350 years. She plans to also bring a few pieces from each school of Pichwai — Nathdwara, Kishangarh and Bundi in Rajasthan — as well as paintings from the Deccan school, which are relatively rare.

Most of these paintings are about 40 to 50 years old at least, and prices start at about ₹2.5 lakh. Nikita’s main focus is to draw people who will come in and enjoy the paintings. “That’s more important,’ she says, adding “As with any art show, it it not just sales we are looking at. We want to introduce more people to the art form.” 

Collage is at  6, Rutland Gate, 4th Street, Thousand Lights, 600008. The Pichwai paintings are on display on Saturday, October 28.

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