This series of paintings is from the ‘Impey’ Ramāyaṇa, a series of illustrations to the Ramāyaṇa named after its its patrons, Sir Elijah Impey (1732–1806), the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in Calcutta from 1774–1790, and his wife Lady Mary Impey (1749–1818), a British natural historian. The couple is most remembered for their commission of a large collection of company school paintings of birds, animals, and native plants, now revered as the ‘Impey Album’. The present series, along with similarly composed Rāgamala and Razmnama (the Persian translation to the Māhābhārata) manuscripts, showcases their broader interest in the arts of Bengal, diverting from the company school aesthetic they were most associated with, in favor of a more regional style of folk painting in Murshidabad. The style, color palette and composition of the Impey Ramāyaṇa series mirrors contemporaneous paṭa scrolls from Bengal, which use a registered format as a narrative device for epics such as the Ramāyaṇa and Bhāgavata Purana. Works of this style were quite unusual commissions for foreigners, who by their own standards, considered the Mughal and Company school ateliers more refined. Nevertheless, the series is celebrated for its vivid color scheme, bold execution and stylized figures. The artists of this splendid series creatively use geographic features, such as the mountain range and river stream to create narrative registers within the painting. The paintings employ the storytelling technique of continuous narration, so that principal characters are depicted repeatedly as the episode unfolds. In the upper register of the first folio, Rāma and Sita kneel before an ascetic, while Lakṣmaṇa respectfully stands behind them. In the lower register, the boatman Kevaṭ washes Rāma’s feet before ferrying the trio across the Gaṅga. His boat, with a tiger figurehead, is moored in the river in the foreground.
The provenance of the paintings is verified by the seal of Sir Elijah Impey stamped on the verso. Also seen are the signature and stamp of Dr W.B. Manley (1885–1972), who served in the Indian Police in the Bombay Presidency from 1905–1924 and as an officer in the Bengal Lancers from 1917–1919. The series, which consisted of 44 paintings, was later acquired by Sir Thomas Phillipps Bt (1792–1872). The folios were much later dispersed at auction at Sotheby’s London, 26 November 1968. Three of the folios from this series that are currently in public collection are housed at the British Library, Los Angeles Country Museum of Art, and the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco.
A majority of the text of this post is excerpted from:
Lakshman cuts off the nose of Shurpanakha by Malini Roy, Visual Arts Curator, Asian and African studies blog, The British Library https://blogs.bl.uk/asian-and-african/2013/12/lakshman-cuts-off-the-nose-of-shurpanakha.html
Footnote for a page from this dispersed series seen at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, (M.72.88.3).
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