Nineteenth-century court painters in India's princely states reconfigured traditional portraiture to address British, Indian courtly and local values and conventions. At Bikaner, a father and son, Rahim and Chotu, experimented with a number of different styles and compositions to devise a royal portrait that confirmed monarchic ideals in uncertain times yet also modernized the genre in step with broader trends. Until recently the creative agency of such artists was mostly set aside as insufficiently modern to be art historically significant, with the result that detailed studies of colonial court painting are only now emerging, and the discipline still has little sense of how developments in this period related within the princely states or with the contemporaneous visual arts of British India. This paper begins to address the disciplinary lacuna on three fronts: first, by drawing out a critique from dispersed local studies to exert more forceful pressure on the discipline; second, by examining the pictorial strategies with which Chotu and Rahim addressed the cultural transformations of the late nineteenth century to test the field's frameworks against the complex, particular visual thinking of court artists; and third, by comparing the strategies of Chotu and Rahim with the visual rhetoric of Bengal School painters to expand on colonial conceptions of past and present, of Western and non-Western, and of the affective power of images. These three approaches are directed at estranging colonial modernism from art historical narratives that give preference to internationalized terms and tastes.

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