'Trumpeters' by Nainsukh of Guler (1710-78).

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Following an application for an export licence by its owner, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) announced it should be temporarily blocked from leaving the country in the hope a buyer can be found to pay the £550,000 price and keep it in the UK.

The government made the decision after the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA) deemed the watercolour to be of “outstanding aesthetic importance and of significant use in the study of Indian history”.

Trumpeters by Nainsukh of Guler (1710-78) shows seven village musicians on a terrace, playing the long Pahari horns called Turhi, in the hill region of northern India. It is regarded as a fine example of Guler’s trademark detailed observation and complex directional composition.

The artist is considered to be one of the most acclaimed of the Pahari (Hills) movement, which was a major and popular genre of Indian miniature painting during the period. Some of his other works are exhibited in public collections in the UK, including the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum. 

Two great works 

Peter Barber, a member of the RCEWA, said: “Nainsukh of Guler’s beautiful miniature of musicians is a masterpiece unparalleled in north Indian art.

“The exuberant gestures and puffed-out cheeks of the trumpeters bear a remarkable resemblance to the trumpeters depicted some 300 years earlier by the Italian Renaissance artist Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506) in his series of paintings, now in Hampton Court, showing the Triumph of Caesar.

“These paintings were repeatedly reproduced as prints over the coming centuries, initially by Mantegna himself. Did Nainsukh see, and was he influenced, by the prints when preparing this watercolour? 

“The export bar offers a British gallery, museum or library the opportunity to acquire this painting. Like the Mantegnas, it would then remain, and be enjoyed, in this country and the connections between two great works of Asian and European arts could be further investigated.”

Colour and light

The miniature is an example of the colour and light of India which inspired its first owner, renowned artist Winifred Nicholson (1893-1981).

Michael Ellis, minister for arts, heritage and tourism, said: “I hope that this piece can be kept in the UK, not only for its beauty, but to help further the study of Indian art and history.”  

The decision on the export licence application will be deferred until February 2019 and could be extended until May 15, 2019, if a serious intention to raise funds to purchase it is made.