Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya

(Formerly Prince of Wales Museum of Western India)

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Object of the Month - December 2018

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Palanquin Bearers

Watercolour on Mica

South India

19th century CE

56.49/2

Miniature paintings on transparent sheets of mica were popular in India in the 19th Century as they were sold to British tourists as souvenirs. Known for their intense colours and delicate forms, mica paintings hold an intrinsic heritage value. These paintings were made by Indian painters, to suit the demands of the British in an Indo-European style. As the paintings were mainly commissioned by the British Company officials, they are known as Company school paintings.

Mica is a transparent material made of potassium silicates, found in South India as well as in parts of Bihar. As a painting medium, the thin sheets of mica are painted using gouache. Its smooth structure does not let the paint sink in and the colours applied to it appear exceptionally bright. Due to the highly smooth surface of mica, it became essential for the artists to use a binding medium with the colours to create these works. In a few of the paintings, colour has been applied to both the front and the back surfaces of the sheet—to enhance the opacity of the pigment. This approach makes the paintings appear three-dimensional.