We've not been able to go to India to see our friend Mukesh this year but he's sent us some new paintings by post.
We first met Mukesh in 2017 in the delightful small Rajasthani town of Bundi. He would sit in his shop and paint every day. A charming man who's father and grandfather were also painters of Indian miniatures. We bought several pieces for the Silk Road and for ourselves and saw him again the following year.
Bundi is one of the celebrated schools in Indian Miniature Painting and that style is on wonderful display in the Garh palace that overlooks the town.
The school was distinguishable from other schools based around Udaipur and Jaipur for its depiction of dark dramatic skies and luxuriant foliage. Having said that, those considerations applied to the small paintings executed on cloth and aren't especially on show on the walls of the palace. But the walls paintings - four hundred years old - are sublime.
The palace was built in the early 17th Century on the hillside below the fort. Both are worth half a day's exploration, the best paintings are in the Chitrashala, the open art gallery that is really just a part of the palace. I don't normally like to be guided round a place but the guide here is worth listening to. And unpushy. The hilltop fort has three stepwells and a series of fascinating semi derelict rooms, uninhabited except for dozens of langur monkeys.
Mukesh has a collection of old legal papers, court papers from the Governments of Jaipur and Bundi which have the crest of arms of the town and a court stamp of one or four annas. An anna is one sixteenth of a rupee and was demonetised in 1957 - which gives you an idea of the age of the papers. The paper is usually half covered in thin handwritten text, either Hindi or Urdu and most probably dates to before Independence.
This year Mukesh moved home from Bundi to Jaipur so we'll have to visit him there when we're able to go back to India. He's reliant on the tourist trade so this year has been hard for him but we'll try to keep buying his paintings.
Sometimes he uses just one bristle for the finest brush strokes. He's the last painter in line in his family but this work is hard on the eyes and he insisted his two children train in a profession.
Mukesh doesn't only paint elephants! Below are some details from paintings of flowers and lady's dress.
There's other attractions to Bundi! It's a small friendly town where many of the buildings are painted blue. The palace is a delight; this photo of a Marble Throne is taken in the Public Audience hall. And there are stepwells! About 50 of them. You can see some of them in our video Stepwells of Bundi and in our Photographs collection where they form part of our ongoing project to photograph the stepwells of Rajasthan and Gujarat.
And a final delight about Bundi is that there are good places to stay and you don't get bothered by young lads trying to be your guide or sell you something you really don't want - so you can look around the magnificent ancient stepwells like the Bhawaldi Bawri in peace!