Mysore Painting is a traditional art form that evolved in what is today the city of Mysore in South India. It received great patronage in the Mysore royal court and today, authentic antique pieces are prized for their intricate brushwork and aesthetic colours.
Chandrika, an artist of the Mysore painting style shared with us a few samples of old Mysore paintings. She elaborates, “The Mysore Painting style is derived from the Vijayanagar style. About a hundred years ago, the board used to be prepared by the artist using newspapers and a white sheet on which to sketch and then paint. A base coat of Maida paste (all-purpose flour) and copper sulphate enhanced the quality of the paper as well as kept the pests away. Natural dyes like oxides were used as paint after mixing with Arabic Gum. This ensured longevity of the colours. Pure gold leaf was used to enhance the richness of the painting.”
The subject of a Mysore Painting is usually Hindu gods and goddesses, celestial mounts and various other characters significant to Hindu mythology. Chandrika says, “If you take the subject of Krishna, there are so may forms that are painted. Other subjects include Kodanda Rama (Rama wielding a bow), Rama Pattabhisheka (the coronation of Rama) and Dharmaraya Pattabhisheka (the coronation of Yudhishtira). It is not uncommon to see about forty to fifty characters in the same painting.”
Chandrika also showed us a set of paintings rendered in the Mysore style by her father, Mr. Ramanarasaiah who was a Mysore royal court artist and a full-time curator of the Jayachamarajendra Art Gallery in Mysore. These paintings individually depict the Indian god of love, Kama Deva and Rati, his consort.
Dr. Veena Shekar, an art historian says, “The technique adopted by the artists and iconography are elaborated in Sritattvanidhi supposedly written by Krishnaraja Wodeyar. I am not sure if the authorship is proven.” This is a manual compiled in the 19th century under the patronage of the then Maharaja of Mysore, Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar (1799 – 1868). Among other things, it illustrates the various forms of the main gods of the Hindu pantheon along with descriptors to enable painters, sculptors and dancers to get the basics as well as nuances right in their depictions.
Dr Shekar adds, “There is another book which the later artists of Mysore used - the Sivatattvaratnakara by Basava Bhoopala.” This is an even older document, a sort of encyclopedia written in the Sanskrit language by the Keladi Nayak ruler, Basava Bhoopala in 1699.
The Mysore Painting form is often confused with that of Thanjavur Painting (also called Tanjore Painting) owing to the similarity of subjects and commercialisation of the art form. Fundamentally, a Mysore Painting is intricate while a Thanjavur Painting is ornate. According to some, both forms originated in the Vijayanagar kingdom of yore and individual styles evolved under the patronage of the local kingdoms in Thanjavur and Mysore.
The colours of a Mysore painting are discrete, often appearing muted. The features of the deities are usually serene. However, a Thanjavur Painting uses a more vibrant colour scheme and the expressions are keen. Mysore Painting is more intricate, with the details being painted in. Thanjavur Painting on the other hand, has more relief embellishment in the form of embedded gem stones.
In terms of material, Thanjavur Painting is done on cloth mounted on wood whereas Mysore Painting is done on paper. Even the materials used for the base and the binding medium are different. Some even claim that Thanjavur Painting employs the use of gold-coated silver foil while authentic Mysore painting uses pure gold leaf.
A typical Mysore Painting today is usually sized between 11” x 12” and a maximum of 30”x40”. An authentic Mysore-style Painting, depending on size, costs anywhere between Rs.2000 to over Rs. 12000. An antique costs anywhere between Rs. 10,000 and Rs. 1 lakh. The pricing depends not only on size but also the intricacy involved in the subject.
(an edited version appeared in the March 2010 Issue of Culturama, formerly At A Glance. Pic by author)