Maharaja Takhat Singh Period

maharaja takhat singh on horseback with a lady and a female retinue. jodhpur, c.1855. by shiv das.

Maharaja Takhat singh and his Successors

Maharaja Takhat Singh (b.c.1820, r.1843-73) was brought from Ahmadnagar in Idar state to take the throne of Jodhpur when Man Singh died, as there was no direct heir. Although his rule was certainly more peaceful than that of his predecessor, it was not a golden age for Jodhpur, and towarda the end of Takhat Singh's reign it was reported by the British administrator Col.W.F.Eden that it had 'no regular government of any kind'.


Takhat Singh's apparent disregard for administration, however, was in no way detrimental to the production of painting, and indeed his leisure activities are well documented, often by the very painters that performed the same task for Maharaja Man Singh.

This seamless continuity of painting activity over the two reigns contributes to the difficulty in distinguishing between Man Singh and Takhat Singh in several court scenes: their features and beards are similar, but Takhat Singh can often be recognized by his somewhat sharper profile and the distinctively upturned moustache he sports in his middle years. The subjects of the paintings done for Takhat Singh are almost exactly those of Man Singh's reign: the hunt, darbars, festivals (especially Holi) and music parties.

A painting from the beginning of Takhat Singh's reign shows the young maharaja seated under a canopy, with three attendants lined up behind him. The painting is ascribed to Bhatti Babhuta, son of Dana, and dated VS 1902/AD 1845. The artist has made some effort to add interest by the use of decorative textiles and trees but the result is very stiff and conventional, although the portrait of Takhat Singh has considerable individuality.

A version of the curious ferris-wheel scene that Man Singh was also fond of was painted by Ali in about 1850. The treatment of the sky is based on designs such as that in the painting of Man Singh and his female army, but there is not a great deal of vitality in this scene.

maharaja takhat singh on a ferris wheel with ladies. jodhpur, c.1850. by ali.
Maharaja Takhat Singh on a ferris wheel with ladies. Jodhpur, c.1850. By Ali. Mwhrangarh Museum Trust, Jodhpur.
maharaja takhat singh with ladies in a garden pavilion. jodhpur, c.1850. by ali.
Maharaja Takhat Singh with ladies in a garden pavilion. Jodhpur, c.1850. By Ali. Mehrangarh Museum Trust, Jodhpur.

A more exuberant painting by Ali shows Takhat Singh surrounded by female musicians and dancers in a garden pavilion. Here, the masses of vegetation add to the vigour of the dancers. One of Ali's most successful works for Takhat Singh is an imposing darbar scene in which the ruler sits in the palace receiving four young nobles, probably four of his ten sons. Although this picture too is very hard and formalized, it contains more imaginative elements such as the gushing fountains and the use of multiple jharokha windows.

An unusual interior scene shows Takhat Singh feasting with a large number of ladies. It is inscribed with the name of the artist Bulaki, who had also worked for Man Singh. This large painting shows the assembled company seated on a long bench around a huge table, with the nimbate maharaja near the end, smoking a huqqa, having vacated his throne. Above, he is shown again, presumably after finishing dinner, relaxing on a large seat facing a row of ladies. Bulaki has used a similar format to that of Ali's ferriswheel painting, with the main activity taking place in the foreground beneath pillared arches that fill the upper half of the painting. Bulaki painted other pictures for Takhat Singh, most notably one showing the ruler watching an elephant fight.

maharaj takhat singh receiving four of his sons. jodhpur, c.1855. by ali.
Maharaj Takhat Singh receiving four of his sons. Jodhpur, c.1855. By Ali. Mehrangarh Museum Trust, Jodhpur
maharaja takhat singh feasting with ladies. jodhpur, c.1850. by bulaki.
Maharaja Takhat Singh feasting with ladies. Jodhpur, c.1850. By Bulaki. Mehrangarh Museum Trust, Jodhpur.

Shiv Das, one of Man Singh's most prolific artists, also worked for Takhat Singh. An exuberant painting of the maharaja on horseback with a lady, accompanied by a retinue of female riders shows Shiv Das's compositional skills to good effect. The jagged edge of the lake contrasts with the curves of the horse's trappings, and the crowded group of ladies on the right of the picture counterbalances the emptier left side, focusing attention on the ruler in the centre. Shiv Das uses a similar ‘sectional use of space in a large-scale garden scene showing Takhat Singh surrounded by ladies, while outside the garden enclosure a row of women fetch water from a well. A more conventional scene, but one that also uses a favourite device of Shiv Das, the curving river, shows Takhat Singh walking by water with a lady, amongst trees and vivid pink rocks.

maharaja takhat singh on horseback with a lady and a female retinue. jodhpur, c.1855. by shiv das.
Maharaja Takhat Singh on horseback with a lady and a female retinue. Jodhpur, c.1855. By Shiv Das. Mehrangarh Museum Trust, Jodhpur.
maharaja takhat singh walking with a lady by a river. jodhpur, c.1855. by shiv das.
Maharaja Takhat Singh walking with a lady by a river. Jodhpur, c.1855. By Shiv Das. Mehrangarh Museum Trust, Jodhpur.

Dana, father of the artist Babhuta and son of Amar Das, seems to have done little work for Takhat Singh, probably due to his advancing age. One painting by him that survives is an attractive scene of Takhat Singh in a palace with ladies holding fireworks. Very much in the tradition of Man Singh's paintings of the various festivals and their appropriate dress, this painting may represent Diwali, at which fireworks often form part of the festivities.

An interesting painting of Takhat Singh paying homage to Shiva and Parvati in their mountain home demonstrates the maharaja's adherence to tradition in matters other than courtly activities.? Dating from about 1855, this is an unusually good painting. It is comparable in subject matter to a portrait of Takhat Singh paying homage to the goddess, who rides a cockerel, but the quality of the Shiva painting seems to be considerably higher.

Towards the end of Takhat Singh's reign, painting became influenced and eventually eclipsed by the newly introduced art of photography, which had a similar effect on painting all over India. Amateur but able photographers such as Eugene Impey brought equipment to Jodhpur, and the negatives of Impey's splendid portrait photographs of Takhat Singh survive in the Ashmolean Museum.10 These candid but highly formalized portraits reveal much more about Takhat Singh than the stilted, idealized paintings by his court artists would ever dare to. Photography did not sweep painting aside in one blow, but its influence produced some idiosyncratic portraits that are based on photographs.

maharaja takhat singh celebrating diwali with ladies. jodhpur, c.1850. by dana.
Maharaja Takhat Singh celebrating diwali with ladies. Jodhpur, c.1850. By Dana. Mehrangarh Museum Trust, Jodhpur.

One such painting is signed by the artist Fateh Chand, and is clearly based closely on a photograph just such as those taken by Impey in the 1860s. A significant change brought about by the impact of photography was the shift from portraiture based on the subject's profile to the use of the full face, as in this portrait of Takhat Singh. Although an occasional diversion from the strict profile rule had sometimes been seen, especially in ‘Sirohi' painting, this 19th-century usage was obviously a direct imitation of European studio photography. The final step towards the total abandonment of the painted portrait is that of the overpainted photograph, in which frequently incongruous elements such as garlands of flowers are painted onto a studio photograph to give a very curious effect.

Takhat Singh's successor, Jaswant Singh II was a progressive and modern monarch, who embraced photography along with contemporary architectural and engineering developments. Like Takhat Singh, however, he continued to patronize artists at court, but more for mural decoration than for portraiture or recording scenes of court life. He had ragamala scenes and portraits of past rulers painted in the fort at Jodhpur, and artists named Kest Das, Kumbhar Gopi and Fateh Muhammad are known to have worked for him. Photography, however, did continue to play a hugely influential role: this painted photograph of him seems to try to soften the harsh realities of the photographic process, with its multitude of additional decorative touches, although it is significant that the face and hands of the maharaja have not been touched.

A painting of Jaswant Singh based on another photograph is attributed by S.C.Welch to a Jaipur artist named Narsingh, and no doubt many others were working in this new idiom. The ambivalent relationship between photography and painting seems to have continued remarkably late - paintings in the style of portrait photographs, rather than overpainted photographs, survive at Umaid Bhavan Palace of Maharaja Sardar Singh (r.18951911), Maharaja Sumer Singh (1911-18) and Maharaja Umed Singh (1918-47).

maharaja takhat singh from a portrait photograph. jodhpur, c.1860-5.
Maharaja Takhat Singh from a portrait photograph. Jodhpur, c.1860-5. Collection of the late Sangram Singh Nawalgarh.
maharaja jaswant singh ii : overpainted photograph. jodhpur, c.1880.
Maharaja Jaswant Singh II : overpainted photograph. Jodhpur, c.1880. Mehrangarh Museum Trust, Jodhpur.

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