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Asian art

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Matsya, the fish incarnation of Vishnu



Kalighat style


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.


Other Titles

Matsya, the fish avatar of Vishnu

The god Narrayon, as an incarnation of a fish

Place where the work was made

Kolkata (Calcutta) West Bengal India



Media categories

Painting , Watercolour

Materials used

watercolour with silver paint on paper


42.5 x 27.3 cm

Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.


Purchased 1959


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Kalighat style

Works in the collection


Shown in 3 exhibitions

Exhibition history

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.).

Jackie Menzies (Editor), The Asian Collections Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Folk Paintings and Souvenir Pictures', Sydney, 2003, 48 (colour illus.).

Jill Sykes, Look, 'Artworks from India under the British Raj...', pg.30, Sydney, Jul 2010, 30 (colour illus.).