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A Bengali courtesan

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Kolkata (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1890 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Painted in watercolour and tin alloy on paper

  • Credit Line:

    Given by M. N. Varvill, Esq.

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Physical description

Painting, in watercolour and tin alloy on paper, of a Bengali courtesan with silver jewellery, holding one end of her sari over her head whilst revealing a bare right breast. The ornaments, detailed in silver colour (executed in tin alloy), may be described as stock in trade of the patuas. In Bengal the women during this period did not wear any other garments under their saris. WG Archer commented on this painting that her opulent form, her pinkish-brown flesh tones and pale blue sari with prominent folds anticipate the bold and curvaceous style.

Place of Origin

Kolkata (made)


ca. 1890 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Painted in watercolour and tin alloy on paper

Marks and inscriptions

'Bengali woman Public'
Inscribed on reverse in English


Height: 18 in, Width: 11 in

Object history note

Given by M N Varvill, Esq., in 1955.

Historical significance: Calcutta was the capital of British India from 1833-1912. By the 1830s, artists had arrived in Calcutta from rural villages in Bengal and began to produce paintings that reflected the local history, mythology, customs and conflicts of a colonised society. As a popular art form, these artists are recognised for their use of brilliant colour, simplified images and swift brushstrokes that became the hallmark of Kalighat painting in the 19th and early 20th century.

Descriptive line

Painting, Bengali courtesan, watercolour and tin alloy on paper, Kalighat, Kolkata, ca. 1890

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Arts of Bengal : the heritage of Bangladesh and eastern India : an exhibition organized by the Whitechapel Art Gallery in collaboration with the Victoria and Albert Museum : 9 November-30 December 1979, Whitechapel Art Gallery ..., 12 January-17 February 1980, Manchester City Art Gallery ... . [London]: Whitechapel Art Gallery, [1979] Number: 085488047X (pbk.) :
Fig. no. 54, Cat. no. 26, xx: p.73.
Kalighat paintings : a catalogue and introduction / by W.G. Archer. London: H. M. Stationery Office, 1971 Number: 0112900291 :


Watercolour; Paper; Watercolour; Tin alloy; Paper



Subjects depicted

Jewellery; Courtesan


Paintings; Bonita Trust Indian Paintings Cataloguing Project


South & South East Asia Collection

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