Women Paintings


India has a rich tradition of paintings, ranging from primitive cave paintings and tribal art work to the magnificent creations of master craftsmen who enjoyed royal patronage to paintings by contemporary artists that fetch millions at auction houses worldwide. Over the centuries, the medium of painting, the material, style and themes have modified. What has remained consistent, however, is the Indian artist's fascination with the female form.

To write on women paintings of India is, then, a task that is not simply Herculean, but perhaps impossible to do justice to. However, it is possible to understand briefly how women have been portrayed over the ages.

Early Portrayals

Some of the earliest women paintings of India are the female forms that adorn the walls of the Ajanta caves. The women in these paintings are depicted as beautifully graceful, with perfectly proportionate figures. They are portrayed in various poses. The artists of the time were inclined to depict Indian women as embodiments of fertility, and these figures too were painted accordingly. They were voluptuous and full-bodied.

Medieval Depiction

In medieval times as well, women paintings of India depicted the female as well-endowed.

This characteristic portrayal of women is apparent in the numerous styles of painting of that time, including Rajasthani Miniatures (link to article: Indian Miniature Paintings) and Radha Krishna Paintings. Women were represented mainly as lovers and consorts. They were rarely, if not ever, seen as independent figures. An occasional depiction of Meera Bai (A Bhakti Cult Poetess) would deviate from this norm to a certain extent, but such depictions were not very common.

The Women Paintings of Raja Ravi Verma

Raja Ravi Varma single handedly revolutionized they way artists portrayed women in India. His female figures are proportionate and life like. They are closer to the western realistic schools of art than the indigenous schools. It is not surprising then that he found admirers in the western art circles.

In all his portrayals of Indian women, irrespective of the social strata or occupational status they occupied, Verma depicts them as objects of veneration. Verma's women are beautiful, but hardly approachable. In his defense, however, it is possible to say that this was perhaps natural, considering his women were usually mythological figures.

Critics have found his depictions problematic, nonetheless. They have ruthlessly criticized his perennial preference for fair skin, and his stereotypical depiction of them as dependents.

Yet, it must be conceded that Verma transformed the aristocratic upper class women of his times into nothing less than heroines, by combining the sacred and the seductive.

Jamini Roy

Jamini Roy is celebrated for his quaint depiction of the women of Bengal. The women paintings of India by this artist are preoccupied with the peasant women in her simple yet colorful surroundings. Roy portrays her as an embodiment of Indian womanhood and strength.

M.F. Hussain

M. F. Hussain's abstract depictions of women are said to endorse the stereotype of ‘indianness'. His women are always represented as the mother, the lover, the seductress, or the muse.

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