A new exhibtion of Punjabi-French collaboration

Lahori, who lived in 19th century Punjab during the rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, received the order from a retired Frenchman, Feuillet de Conches, who was obsessed with having La Fontaine’s works illustrated in different cultures around the world. La Fontaine’s works have also been portrayed by Egyptian, Chinese, Japanese and Persian artists.

‘‘Of the different collections of La Fontaine painted by artists from around the globe, the Indian collection is considered the t beautiful,’’ says Christiane Sinnig-Haas, curator of the exhibition and director of the Museum La Fontaine, France, its permanent home.

Twenty-four of La Fontaine’s t celebrated verses were inspired by India, but he never visited the country. ‘‘He admits to being heavily inspired by an Indian writer Pilpay, but we still have no idea who that is,’’ says Vidya Vencatesan, head of the French department at Elphinstone College, who will speak at a related seminar on the 16th century poet. Fourteen of the stories are also part of the Panchatantra.

Lahori used watercolours, mixed with an adhesive and stroked his canvas with camel hair brushes. Among the beautiful miniatures he painted are The Wishes, depicting the serenity of the Punjabi countryside.

In The Bear and the Amateur of Gardening, La Fontaine explores the theme of friendship and it’s clear that both he and Lahori were fond of nature as the story unfolds in a garden. The narrative of The Animals Sick Of The Plague reminds the viewer of justice meted out both in the Ottoman and Mughal empires.

‘‘The drawings are a mix of styles. Lahori had seen the illustrations of the tales previously done by Francois Chauveau and Jean-Baptiste Oudry and adapted from them,’’ says Jean-Marie Lafont, the exhibition’s scientific curator. As part of the seminar, he will explore the paintings and its environs.

Lahori was loyal to Feuillet’s directions but unlike his European counterparts, he chose not to paint the sky; the fables all take place between the earth and sea, replete with trees and vegetation. But there are iconographical similarities in Lahori’s representation of the king, his crown, shoes etc. Though he dabbed the paintings with local flavour, they retain their Persian and European influences.

The Dream Of An Inhabitant Of Mogul opens March 6, Prince of Wales Museum, Kala Ghoda. The seminar on La Fontaine takes place March 7

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