Matsya, the fish incarnation of Vishnu
circa 1830 - 1930
Images such as this are known as Kalighat paintings, after the famous Kalighat temple in Kolkata (Calcutta) dedicated to Kali, the fearsome goddess of time and death. From around 1830, distinctive, quickly painted souvenirs were produced in large numbers for visitors who flocked to the temple. The images were intended to aid domestic worship and typically illustrate Hindu deities. Later, mass-produced prints replaced Kalighat paintings. The Hindu gods and goddesses were popular
subjects for the Kalighat artists. Images of Vishnu in one of his ten incarnations or avatars were particularly prevalent. This painting shows Vishnu as his first avatar, Matsya the fish. Vishnu took the form of a fish to save humankind and the ancient texts during an enormous flood. As part of the enterprise Matsya killed the conch demon and when he blows into the conch shell, the balance of
the earth is restored.
Matsya, the fish avatar of Vishnu
The god Narrayon, as an incarnation of a fish
watercolour with silver paint on paper
42.5 x 27.3 cm
Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
Shown in 3 exhibitions
Referenced in 7 publications
Rachel Barnes, Guardian weekly, 'Indian inklings', pg. 26-27, Manchester, 08 Mar 1994. General reference
Kate Brittlebank, TAASA Review, 'Unexpected Connections: An Australian Kalighat Album Reunited', pg. 4-5, Sydney, Jun 2006, 5 (colour illus.).
Kate Brittlebank, TAASA Review, "Postscript: Kalighat's Missionaries', pg. 23, Sydney, Dec 2006.
Kate Brittlebank, Journal of the History of Collections, 'Anthropology, fine art and missionaries: The Berndt Kalighat album rediscovered', pg.127-142, Oxford, May 2008.
Elizabeth Fortescue, The Daily Telegraph, 'Indian history through art', pg. 91, Sydney, 28 May 2004, 91 (illus.).
Jill Sykes, Look, 'Artworks from India under the British Raj...', pg.30, Sydney, Jul 2010, 30 (colour illus.).
The Asian Collections Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Folk Paintings and Souvenir Pictures', Sydney, 2003, 48 (colour illus.).