- Museum number
Gouache painting on paper from a portfolio of sixty-three paintings of deities and daily life. Ten vignettes of Shaiva ascetics performing penance in two rows of five.
a) A standing ascetic naked but for a minute loin-cloth, performing panchagni tapas, i.e. 'five fires penance' standing in the sun, surrounded by four fires.
b) An ascetic, as above, stands on his hands, his eyes closed in deep meditation. His knees are slightly flexed and his feet crossed.
c) An ascetic, as above, hangs upside down from a branch of a tree.
d) An ascetic, as above, floats mid-air, his legs in padmasana. His eyes are shut; with one hand on the nose he controls his breath intake. On the ground is the tiger skin on which he was seated before levitating into mid-air.
e) An ascetic, as above, stands on his left leg, while his right leg is flexed above his left knee.
f) An ascetic, as above, immersed up to his neck in the water of a lake in which grow clusters of lotuses.
g) An ascetic, as above, seated in utkutikasana on a tiger skin placed in the shade of a banyan tree. A yogapatta is wound around his knees and keeps them in position.
h) An ascetic, as above, stands on his head. His left hand is placed on the ground to keep his balance.
i) An ascetic, as above, stands, the palms of his hands turned upwards. A yajnopavita (sacred thread) is shown across his chest.
j) An ascetic, as above, seated in padmasana on a tiger skin. His hands are in anjali mudra, his eyes are closed.
The background of these ten scenes is a rural landscape enlineved by trees and rocks and the occasional cloud in the sky.
- Production date
- 1820 (circa)
Height: 40.50 centimetres (Mounted)
Height: 23.80 centimetres
Height: 29 centimetres
Width: 56 centimetres (Mounted)
Width: 23.50 centimetres (size of page)
Width: 18.80 centimetres (size of the drawings)
- Curator's comments
The portfolio consists of sixty-three paintings on loose sheets of paper. The series includes images of deities, mendicants and ritual scenes such as a wedding and cremation. Executed on European laid and water-marked paper, with the date 1816 appearing on one sheet, the paintings must have been produced in the immediately following years, c. 1820. There is much use of gold paint and brilliant colours, which is still bright, evidence of the portfolio having been kept closed for long periods since its creation.
Exhibition Label: Yoga The Art of Transformation
(Text courtesy of Sackler Gallery, Washington DC)
Ascetics Performing Tapas
This grid of ten vignettes, like the volumes left and
opposite, is a taxonomy (a scheme of classification) of
colonial subjects. It was likely produced for a wealthy
European patron in Tamil Nadu.
The ascetics have the matted locks, rudraksha bead
necklaces, and sectarian marks of Shaiva yogis. Some
undertake ancient austerities, while others perform
hatha yoga postures and cleansing techniques. The
yogi performing breath control while pinching his nose
levitates—a goal of some hatha practices.
Opaque watercolor on paper
The Trustees of the British Museum, Bequeathed through Francis Henry Egerton
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2010-2011 Nov-Feb, London, Asia House, 'The Tiger in Asian Art'
2013 -2014 Oct- May, Washington D.C., The Sackler Gallery; San Francisco, San Francisco Asian Art Museum "Yoga: The Art of Transformation"
Sep 2020 - Jan 2021, BM, Room 35, "Tantra: enlightenment to revolution"
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Formerly in the possession of the last owner’s maternal great-uncle, Rupert Richardson-Gardner, who worked in India in the 1930s. However, given the presence of auction room stickers on several of the paintings (one provides the date of the sale – June 15th 1977), it is more likely that the portfolio was acquired by him during his post-war career in Christie’s (he was a specialist in carpets and rugs, but, given his previous career in India, he probably maintained an interest in things Indian which he saw passing through the sale-rooms).
- Registration number