Escapade at Night: A Nobleman Climbs a Rope to Visit His Lover

Artist: Attributed to Chokha (Indian, active 1799–ca. 1826)

Date: ca. 1800–10

Culture: India (Udaipur, Mewar, Rajasthan)

Medium: Opaque watercolor, ink and gold on paper

Dimensions: Image: 11 1/2 x 14 7/8 in. (29.2 x 37.8 cm)
Page: 12 3/16 x 15 15/16 in. (31 x 40.5 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Purchase, Friends of Asian Art Gifts, 2006

Accession Number: 2006.451


Chokha had a special fascination with night scenes in which he could explore the effects of light. This composition, depicting a lover climbing a rope secured to his trusty horse, is a masterful nocturnal study. The object of the nobleman’s affection awaits him in her bedchamber, while below, the palace guards sleep. A maidservant has secured the rope to the rooftop pavilion, and below, the nobleman’s handsome horse stands steady, anchoring the rope with the necessary tautness. Many of Chokha’s finest hunting scenes are set at twilight, and this night scene represents a natural development in his work. Few painters could have captured the atmosphere so evocatively; the portrayal of this daring escapade serves to heighten the tension in the lovers’ risky meeting.

About the Artist

Active 1799–ca. 1826, first at Udaipur under the patronage of Maharana Bhim Singh (r. 1778–1828), then at Devgarh ca. 1811–after 1826 under Rawat Gokul Das II (r. 1786–1821); son of Bagta, father of Baijnath

The career path followed by Chokha — Bagta’s second son — paralleled that of his father in many aspects. Chokha was born in Devgarh, where Bagta worked as a painter, but he received his actual training in the large ateliers in Udaipur, where his father had produced his first works roughly forty years earlier. Like those of his father, Chokha’s early pictures are indebted to the prevailing atelier style at Udaipur. More original compositions appear only in his Devgarh period. The artist returned there around 1811, and it appears that he replaced his father as that court’s leading painter; Bagta’s last documented work there dates from 1814.

Chokha’s first works were produced for the patron Maharana Bhim Singh (r. 1778–1828) of Udaipur. To judge from the great number of surviving pictures, it seems that the prince was obsessed with portraits of himself. Much favored in Udaipur painting of this period are depictions of the dazzlingly white palace architecture, typically only highlighted with a few color accents. Only a short time later, Chokha was in the employ of the ruler of Devgarh, and his works there display evidence of a change in style. Although Chokha adopted some of his father’s characteristic motifs, notably the featuring of hunting dogs and the use of circular lightly washed areas of color, in a number of later pictures of the ruler Gokul Das (described by an English official as “Herculean in bulk”), his facial features are individualized somewhat less strongly.

In Chokha’s last known works, it is evident that he was responding to Mughal conventions as well as European subjects, which had not greatly influenced Bagta, the notable exception being his aerial view of Singh Sagar. The careers of Bagta and Chokha are among the most interesting in Rajput painting. One sees both father and son striving toward defining an independent pictorial style. For both, a change of patron was necessary to achieve that goal.