Seventy-nine

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Maharao Umed Singh of Kota Hunting at Night

1790, in Kota
Victoria & Albert Museum

Like postcard fifty-six, also part of the V&A’s Maharaja exhibition, this painting is absorbingly illustrative. The picture transports us to a different world, enveloping in its distinct style and happily consistent palette. The blues and greens are illustrious; subtle but compelling, they give the picture a magical quality, a fantastical glaze between the image and realism. The cliffs glow indigo under an inky sky, while blue tipped leaves erupt from the spreading arms of branches; glittering in their numbers, they wave in the frozen breeze. Frozen dead still, as the scene has been stopped mid-action; the tiger is caught dead leaping to pounce, tongue lolling, he raises a paw to strike, only to have it stopped mid-air. The tigers, though the object of the hunt, monopolise the frame, visually striking with dagger-thin stripes on bright fur. The bull, though matching their size, is dark blue and blends into the palette of the surroundings; indeed, Maharao Umed Singh himself has become camouflaged in foliage, the man in the tree is barely visible. The image is romantic, less about the triumph of humans hunting and more about the magical landscape of nature – the encompassing night shrouding the fairy tale beauty of the pool, dotted with delicate lilies while the full moon watches over the scene, lighting enchanted trees.

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