India has a rich heritage in the art of painting. The art of painting reached the height of its glory and splendour during the Gupta Age. This Art was widely practised and used for the adornment of royal palaces, temples and Buddhist halls. A few paintings of this age have survived, which shoW the excellence of this art during this period. The most celebrated examples of the paintings of this age are the wall paintings in the Buddhist caves at Ajanta in Andhra Pradesh, the Bagh caves in Gwalior, the Sitannavasal temples in Puddukotal and the rock cut chambers at Sigiriya in Ceylon.
The paintings in the Ajanta caves represent “the climax which genuine
Indian art had attained. They vividly portray the real life of the people. On
the wall of these caves are painted scenes of the life of the Buddha. There
are also charming and delicate scenes of home and palace life, toilet and
sports, festivities and processions. “On the hundred walls and pillars of those rock carved temples” remarks Rothen Stein, “a vast drama moves before our eyes, a drama played by princes and sages and heroes, by men and women of every condition among forests and gardens, in courts and cities, on wide plains and deep jungles, while above messengers from heaven move swiftly in the sky. The most notable of the pictures in the caves are those of “the Mother and Child”, “the Hunting
Scene” and the “Dying Princess.” Cave No. XVII has been aptly described as a picture gallery. It illustrates some of the most interesting episodes
concerning the birth, life and death of Buddha. In this cave there are also
remarkable paintings depicting scenes of hunt of a lion and black buck and of elephants. Mrs Harring points out that these pictures are composed in a light and shade scheme which can scarcely be paralleled in Italy before the 17th century A.D.
The paintings in the caves at Bagh in Maiwa are of the same quality as those of Ajanta. There are scenes of dancing acted by a group of women led by a man. The paintings in the galleries of a rock ci citadel on the top of a hill at Sigiriya in Ceylon depict a procession of noble ladies, beautifully dresses going to a Buddhist temple. The ladies are attended by their maid-servants who carry the material for worship. The portraits are of the same type as that of Ajanta paintings. After the Gupta Age, the art of painting began to decline. But the art of book illumination continue
particularly in Jam texts. The Jam monks of Western India and the Buddhist monks of Nepal and Eastern hidia were fond of illuminating their manuscripts with miniature paintings. Each picture was a fine piece of art. The Rajputs developed their own style of painting. They painted scenes from the epics and the legends about Lord Krishna.
Medieval Period: Muslim rulers did not encourage the art of painting. But the art of painting was used to illustrate the books. Artists were employed to decorate the books owned by the Sultans and their courtiers. Influenced by the Persian artists, the Indian painters used more delicate colours and shading.
The Mughal Period: The art of painting owes its revival to the Mughals. The Mughal paintings depict an art which was a harmonious blend of Hindu, Persian and Chinese art. Babur had a taste for the art of painting. He saw in Herat the fine specimens of Iranian paintings. Impressed by these works, he also began to patronise the painter artists. But no painting of his time has survived. Humayun developed a taste for painting during his exile in Persia. On his return to India, he brought with him two artists named Mr Saiyyid Tabrizi and Khwaja Abdul Samad. He got prepared from them a fully illustrated copy of the Dastan-i-Amir Hamzah, a well-known Persian work. During Akbar’s reign, the art of painting made real progress. Abul Fazal writes that Akbar encouraged painting both as a means of study and of amusement. He examined every work of the artists, offered criticism and suggestions and gave rewards for excellit works. He got painted beautiful pictures on the walls of the palaces ar Fatehpur Sikri. The most prcenirtent among the painters at the court of Akbar were Abdul Samad, Mir Saiyyad Ali, Farukh, Daswandh, Basawan, Tara Chand and Jagannath. Basawan’s work was highly appreciated by the Emperor. Akbar got illustrated by the painters the well-known works like Chingeznamah, the Zafarriah, the Ramayana, Ayar-i-Danish etc. Under Jahangir, the art of painting continued to flourish. Jahgir was an expert painter himself. He was at once an art critic and collector of historical paintings. Tie inguished painters in the time of Jahangir were Farrukh Beg, Muhammad Nazar and Muhammad Miid. He also patronised Hindu painters like Bishan Das, Keshav Brothers, Manohar and Tulsi. In the period of Jahangir, the favourite subjects of painting were plants, flowers, animals birds and other nabual objects. Miniature paintings and book illustrations also received impetus.
Shah Jahan did not show any interest in painting. Most of the painter artists were compelled to seek employment with lesser princes. However, there were some eminent painters who found place in the court of Shah Jahan and their names were Mir Hasan, Anup chitra, Chintamani and Faquir Ullah.
Aurangzeb sounded the death-knell of art of painting in his kingdom. He hated painting so much that he defaced the paintings in Asar Mahal at Bijapur and whitewashed those in Akbar’s mausoleum at Sikandra. But the art of painting did not completely disappear. Many pictures are found which show Aurangzeb taking part in certain battles or hunting, travelling and reading etc.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, the art of painting made much progress in different regions of the country. The Deccan School of Painting produced some works of great merit but they were looted and destroyed by the Maratha Peshwas. The Rajput chiefs helped in the development of Rajput School of Painting. The Hindu painter artists decorated their palaces and buildings depicting the life of common people, their beliefs, manneis and traditions. The Pahari or Kangra School of Painting flourished in Nurpur, Basohli, Chamba and Jammu. The artists painted pictures of Shankar, Parvati and Radha Krishna in different moods. The chief features of these paintings were delicacy of lines, brilliance of colours and minuteness of decorative details. With the spread of Western education in India, there grew a new urban culture which gave birth to the modern art of painting. After 1857, the British government in India gave a fillip to Indian art. In order to train artists in the use of colours and art forms, it established Art schools at Bombay, Clacutta and Madras. The European artists trained the painter artists of these schools in painting mostly the scenes of nature. Though they learnt to make oil paintings on the canvas, they could paint only in Western style. The eminent painters of the pre-independence period were Rabindra Nath Tagore, Ram Kinkar, Nand Lal Bose, Amrita Shergil, Raja Ravi Verma, Sobha Singh etc.