Lot 137. Two ladies sharing a tender moment, attributable to Govardhan, Mughal India, circa 1615-20. Opaque pigments and gold on paper, on cream leaf painted with gold floral lattice, backed on cream card. Painting 6 3/8 x 4 ins. (16.3 x 10.1 cm.); folio 19 ¾ x 15 ¾ ins. (50 x 40.1 cm.). Estimate USD 400,000 - USD 600,000. Price realised USD 447,000. © Christie's Images Ltd 2019.

Literature: Seyller, 2010, pp.54-55.

ExhibitedMuseum Reitberg, Zurich, 2010.

NoteThis exquisitely detailed portrait of two women from the royal Mughal court illustrates their indulgent and sumptuous courtly life. Unlike their male counterparts who were often painted with detailed and distinguishable facial features and accessories denoting their rank, for reason of propriety, harem artists never gave away the identity of their sitters. As a result, the women are often depicted as general beauties who at times were engaged in amorous acts, such as the scene here. The artist has captured a real sense of tenderness between the women as they gaze deeply into each other’s eyes. They are portrayed at equal height, similarly bejeweled denoting the same social status. 

This work has been attributed to Govardhan, often described as the most talented artist in capturing his sitters' emotions. He was an artist active in the royal Mughal atelier during the reigns of Jahangir and Shah Jahan (Seyller, 2011, p.56). The characteristic features of the artist include the arc of the eyebrows, and granular modeling of the faces, which softens the jaw, mouth and eye-sockets, giving sense of movement and emotional depth (ibid.). Other giveaway features of Govardhan’s hand are the color palettes used with the carefully considered and calculated interpretation of patterns on every decorated feature which is present in the scene.  

The date of this work is determined by the presence of the orange border around the purple carpet, which are also seen on two other works (dated to ca. 1615-1620) by the artist before he moved on to more subdued colors. The second feature is the fantastic animal patterns depicted on the carpet which were the predominant decorative elements of the finest border decorations of Mughal manuscripts from the 1590s.

Christie's. Maharajas & Mughal Magnificence, New York, 19 June 2019