Transition Period

In the 7th century the influence of Indian Rajput and Mughal traditions was strongly felt in Nepali arts. But Nepali artists did not yet produce perspective and depth of field. After this period, however, the Nepali palette became richer and the pictures of vegetation became more prominent than before. The Rajput fashion in clothes also became more visible.


The turning point in Nepali painting was to be the influence of portrait making of Mughal and Rajput India. Though the portraits, as idealized images of persons, were depicted in paubhas, the full portrait making of Royalties became popular only after that period. Some of the early portraits of the kings of Nepal were done either by some Indian artists or by Nepali artists in direct emulation of the Rajput and Mughal style.



First Contacts with Western Art


The turning point in portrait making came with the visit of the first Nepali Prince Jung Bahadur to Europe ? Britain and France ? in 1850. The princes loved their own images and they employed family painters to do them, namely the Newar artists of the Kathmandu Valley who are still know by the name ?Chitrakar? or picture maker.


In their love for themselves and their love for projecting their awe and their power, the princes and royalties trained Nepali painters and sculptors in the western tradition. They commissioned busts in Europe. The Rana Prime Minister?s huge figures riding a horse were then installed in the open space in the heart of Kathmandu town and showed their love for power and exclusiveness.


An artist by the name of Bhajuman Chitrakar accompanied Jung Bahadur to Europe in 1850. Bhajuman was a court artist in his thirties, a traditional artist who did beautiful sketches and made pictures of birds and animals. He had already executed several portraits of Jung Bahadur and his father and brothers before he joined the Prince on this trip.


Bhajuman's visit to Europe can be considered a significant event in Nepali portrait making. Though direct evidence of his emulation of Western painting cannot be found, the fact that he executed a portrait of the Queen and received great praise for it can be seen a evidence that he had a keen eye for the arts and for portraiture. He was inspired to do a painting of the Queen after having seen her portraits at the Royal Palace. As a very talented artist he must have learnt much from his European visit. A careful study of the portraits he executed after his return to Nepal comes up with many details in terms of the Western influence.


The Chitrakars basically remained the court painters. They also executed paintings about the socio-cultural life of the Newars in the Kathmandu Valley. Their motifs range from the secular to the religious and are narrative in structure. The lineage of the Chitrakar artists makes for a very interesting subject of study for any art historian in Nepal.


Another Chitrakar by the name of Dirghaman accompanied Prime Minister Chandra Sumshere Rana to Europe in1908. Dirghaman executed a portrait of Edward VII for which he is said to have been offered ten thousand pound Sterling which he refused to accept for the sake of prestige. With Dirghaman's foreign visit more Western influence came to Nepal. But since no other forms of art were done in Nepal, the Chitrakars continued to be commissioned to do the portraits of the Royalties. Since 1850 a large number of portraits had been done and this tradition continued through the entire period of Rana rule which lasted up to 1950.


The Ranas were aware of the Western influence. They wanted to encourage the education in the Western style of art. In 1918 Chandra Sumshere Rana sent Chandra Man Maskey for training in Western art to the Calcutta School of Art. This school had been established in 1854 by Indian and British art lovers of the city and was subsequently taken over by the British government.


The Western influence on the art of the subcontinent and on Nepal in particular is a very important point for consideration. In recent times, especially with the emphasis on orientalism on the one hand, and the pervasive Western influence on art education on the other, the subject of Western influence on oriental art continues to be discussed. A short background sketch of the Western influence, of modernization and the merger of the traditions in this part of the world needs to be presented here to understand the nature of the contemporary or the modern art scene of Nepal and the subcontinent.