A Young Lady, Perhaps Menaka, Playing with Balls

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Item Code: OS59
Artist: Anup Gomay
Oil Painting on CanvasArtist: Anup Gomay
Dimensions 35.0 inch X 58.0 inch
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100% Made in India
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The painting, a large size canvas rendered in oil, portraying a young lady, tall with the sky’s heights, and lustrous, far ahead of gold, in a posture of playing with a ball represents variedly, in modern context, a young sportive woman, and in mythical, Menaka, the celestial nymph, an icon of rare beauty, and the central character in many popular myths, the ocean-churning and the sage Vishvamitra-related being better known. Raja Ravi Varma and other artists of modern painting have painted Menaka identically to the youthful figure as painted on this canvas. Not as a character in a narration, they have perceived Menaka as the model of voluptuous beauty having the same relevance today as she had in the world of myths. The tradition perceives her as a pleasure-seeking playful nymph endowed with the power to bewitch all, and these are such attributes of this mythical being that appeal the modern mind. Perceiving this sportive being playing with balls might be an artistic expansion of her activity.

While interpreting the theme of the painting, the reasoning mind might find it difficult to conciliate with any of these two contentions in regard to the figure’s identity. A young girl with such rare beauty and high birth playing with a ball in a remote forest with no habitation around, all alone and unattended, appears to be improbable. This improbability further deepens with the style of her ensemble – a rich sari worked heavily with gold and worn so casually, certainly not for sporting, and that too, under a sky covered with heavy clouds and on a marshy land with shrubs overgrown. Alike, texts talk of celestial nymphs, as was Menaka, being sportive, playing various games, also the games played with balls, in the court of Indra, for entertainment as also for displaying their charms and pleasing manners, but in the known body of texts a specific event alluding to a nymph descending on the earth and playing there with a ball or balls does not occur. Thus, interpreted either way, it little satisfies the mind.

‘A lady with a ball’ is anybody’s caption of the painting. However, if the options are two : a high-born young girl playing with a ball all alone in an uninhabited forest with clouds hovering over from all sides, and a celestial nymph descending on the earth and playing with a ball, the latter appears to be more probable. Scriptures abound in tales of superhuman beings, nymphs and others, descending on the earth from time to time and functioning like human beings. Not towns, natural surroundings are invariably such celestial beings’ resorts. Obviously, the painting might be seen as portraying the Menaka-theme, the playful ‘apsara’ of Indra, the king of gods, one of his six principal nymphs, the other five being Urvashi, Purvachitti, Sahajanya, Ghratachi, and Vishvachi. They were Indra’s tool for destroying the penance of his opponents.

A sage, named Vishvamitra, an erstwhile king, who by his fifty thousand years long penance and the spiritual powers acquired thereby was turning into a potent danger for Indra. He hence deployed Menaka, the most seductive nymph of Indra-loka for corrupting his penance. As instructed, Menaka reached where Vishvamitra was performing penance. She is said to have made all seductive efforts to break Vishvamitra’s meditation to include dancing, singing, sporting, and sensually exposing her body, its lustre and youthfulness, while resorting to sports and music, as also otherwise, but the mind of the noble sage remained fixed into him and did not shake. As the tradition has it, it was after years of her sensuous maneuvering that sage Vishvamitra opened his eyes and enchanted by her voluptuous beauty submitted to her desire and united with her, and with this the objective of Menaka’s ascendance on the earth was fulfilled. It is very likely that Menaka, in her many years long maneuvering, which included sporting, she might have resorted to playing with balls for it not only gave her opportunity to let his sari slip sensually exposing her figure, sensuous breasts, recessed belly, and the region below the waist but also revealed a mischievous innocence and adolescence.

The absence of the figure of Vishvamitra alone disturbs this Menaka analogy for in the entire body of Indian art, sculpture or painting, Menaka is hardly ever portrayed without the figure of the noble sage, more so because it also affords the painting illustrative stretch revealing one of the India’s best known myths. However, the modern mind deleted this narrative aspect of the theme and preferred painting her focusing on her person, youthfulness and aura, and all her splendour, independent and all alone, with nothing that distracted the viewing eye from the main figure, except the nature around, as sensuous as she herself – distant hill-range, river with lotuses drowsing on its quiet waters, spiky cypresses, a mist-covered huge tree behind, rocks, and a patch of bluish clouds towards which she has tossed one of her colourful balls, while other two are lying on the ground. While tossing the ball her sari has rolled down on the ground giving her person a magical dimension.

This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.

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Oil painting technique – India centric

Oil painting is the most interesting technique in art. Unlike other paintings or art forms, oil painting is a process in which colored pigments are painted on the canvas with a drying oil medium as a binder. This medium helps colors blend beautifully to create layers and also makes them appear rich and dense. Several varieties of oil are used in this painting such as sunflower oil, linseed oil, etc., and depending on the quality of the oil, a particular consistency of the paint is developed. With the use of an oil medium, the painting gets a natural sheen on the surface which appears extremely attractive. India is famous for its old tradition of making oil paintings. This art form was brought by Europeans in the 18th century and is now practiced by almost all well-known artists. Nirmal, a small tribal town in the state of Telangana is the center of traditional oil paintings in India where the local people practice it with dedication. Most Indian artists still use the traditional technique of oil painting.

Canvas of the required size is prepared

The artists use either a wood panel or canvas made from linen or cotton. Sometimes the canvas is stretched onto the wooden frame to form a solid base, or cardboard may be used. The canvas is coated with a layer of white paint or chalk mixed with animal glue. This mixture is then smoothed and dried to form a uniform, textured surface. The wooden panel is more expensive and heavier but its solidity is an advantage in making detailed paintings with ease.

Sketch is drawn on the canvas

Now the artist starts to draw the subject of the painting on the canvas using the actual charcoal or a charcoal pencil. Sometimes, he may sketch with thinned paint as well.

Oil paint is applied using paint brushes or palette knives

Now that the rough sketch is prepared, the artist is now ready to paint. Oil paint, a special paint that contains particles of pigments suspended in a drying oil (usually linseed oil), is again mixed with oil to make it thinner for applying it on the canvas. Proper consistency of the paint is maintained to avoid its breakage. The most important rule for the application of oil paint is “Fat over lean” in which the first layer of paint is thin and later, thicker layers are applied. This means that each additional layer of paint contains more oil. This results in getting a stable paint film. Traditionally, paint was applied using paint brushes but now the artists also use palette knives to create crisp strokes. To paint using this technique, the edge of the palette knife is used to create textured strokes that appear different from that of a paintbrush. Sometimes, oil paints are blended simply using fingers for getting the desired gradation.
Smaller oil paintings, with very fine detail, are relatively easier to paint than larger ones. The most attractive feature of these paintings is the natural shiny appearance that is obtained on the surface because of the use of oil paint. The blending of colors looks extremely realistic and this is the reason why oil paintings are loved by everyone throughout the world.
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