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An image of Itinerant acrobats by Company school

Company school

(India late 18th century – late 19th century)

Itinerant acrobats
Other titles:
The buffet game
Mock fight
Place of origin
Thanjavur (Tanjore)Tamil NaduIndia
Cultural origin
Company school; probably by a Muslim artist working in Thanjavur
circa 1800
Media categories
Painting, Watercolour
Materials used
opaque watercolour with gold and silver on paper

22.8 x 18.1 cm image; 28.4 x 23.1 cm sheet

Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
Gift of Mr George Sandwith 1957
Accession number
Not on display
Further information

The acrobats are typical of those numerous sets of depictions of castes and occupations so much favoured by European patrons of Indian painters in the early nineteenth century. In this striking image all attention is focused on the woman balancing on top of the pole. Below her, providing a drum roll to intensify the drama of the act is a drummer playing a double-headed drum that's v-shaped lacing is clearly visible. Both women wear the long saris typical of the Maharashtran region of western India; the saris are long enough for women to be able to wind them between their legs, so achieving a pantaloon effect. The style enables the ease of movement necessary in acrobatic routines as illustrated here but also allowed Maratha women to ride astride on horses and fight in various military campaigns in the eighteenth century.

Jim Masselos, 'Dancing to the flute - Music and dance in Indian art', AGNSW, 1997. pg. 248.

Bibliography (4)

Sonny Eisfeldt, Ann-Charlotte Nilsson Eisfeldt and Richard Magito Brun, Eisfeldt: en surrealistisk familj, Sweden, 2014, 119 (colour illus.).

Jim Masselos, Divine and Courtly Life in Indian Painting, Sydney, 1991. 5.9. Work is titled 'Mock fight' in this catalogue.

Jackie Menzies (Editor), The Asian Collections Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Folk Paintings and Souvenir Pictures', Sydney, 2003, 47 (colour illus.).

Pratapaditya Pal, Dancing to the flute: music and dance in Indian art, Sydney, 1997, 248 (colour illus.). 154 See 'Further Information' for text.

Exhibition history (5)

A survey of Indian art (1967), Fisher Library, University of Sydney, Sydney, 06 Sep 1967–23 Sep 1967

Divine and Courtly Life in Indian Painting, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 04 Oct 1991–08 Jan 1992

Dancing to the flute: music and dance in Indian art, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 12 Jun 1997–24 Aug 1997

East of India - forgotten trade with Australia, Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney, 01 Jun 2013–18 Aug 2013