RIDER ON ELEPHANT-MASKED HORSE
Place of Origin: MEWAR, INDIA
Date: Late 18th - Early 19th Century
Height: 29.8cm (11 ¾ inches)
Width: 25.4cm (10 inches)
A gouache painting on paper highlighted with gold that presents a charming and colourful study depicting a light-grey stallion with a lavish black, red and gold caparison and silver tassels as well as an elaborate elephant mask (the black portion of the coverings made from shiny animal hair). The elegant moustachioed rider is clothed in a pleated white muslin jama, together with a yellow pagri and patka with fringed ends highlighted in gold. He holds a curious whip-goad terminating in a red tassel, curled in such a way as to mirror the curve of the elephant-mask trunk, creating a pleasant symmetry in the composition. The legs and tail of the horse are painted with henna – applied in this case for decoration, but also more practically used to protect the horse’s skin from infections and sunburn. Both the horse and rider are silhouetted in profile against a bright crimson-red background that further adds to the dynamic colour contrasts of the composition.
This delightful image seems to follow the iconography of portraits of the favourite horses from the Royal Mewar stables of Maharana Ari Singh II (r. 1761-1773). As in this case, the horses were typically depicted with one leg raised, against a flat background, and the rider – usually a groom or noble looking to the right with the left hand raised – was anonymous. The focus was on the beauty of the stallions, whose names were typically recorded on the recto or verso of the painting.
This example is likely a later piece from this period, probably produced during the reign of Ari Singh’s successor Maharana Bhim Singh (r. 1778-1828), and it presents a rare feature – the remarkable elephant face-mask, which signals the importance of the animal. An armour complete with chamfron and ‘trunk-guard’ are displayed in the Udaipur City Palace Museum, Rajasthan, purportedly having belonged to the horse ‘Chetak’ of Maharana Pratap Singh, the 13th King of Mewar (1540-1597). A painted depiction of elephant armour on a horse, of similar date, can be found in the British Museum (Museum No. 1941,0619,0.9). In this case the equestrian portrait shows Maharana Jawan Singh of Udaipur (r. 1821-1838) richly dressed as a warrior. Interestingly, the groom in the present painting resembles Maharana Ari Singh, such as in a painting (Lot 70) sold by Christie’s last year. The whip held by the figure in our present example is a rare object which may be compared with a combination gun whip sold by Runjeet Singh in Arms and Armour The Goddess: Arms and Armour of the Rajputs London 2018, Cat No. 24, p. 67.
From a distinguished New York collection, acquired 1968.