Drawing from Literature and Legend: 4 Inspired Paintings

Artists have often turned to stories, both fiction and historical, for inspiration. Their personal interpretations enrich shared narratives which bring people together, and add to the collective cultural landscape. Featured below are four works from Saffronart’s upcoming Evening Sale in New Delhi on 20 September which draw upon themes and characters from folk tales, mythology and history.


Nicholas Roerich

Nicholas Roerich, The Snow Maiden (Stage Design), oil and tempera on canvas, 23.5 x 35.5 in. Estimate: INR 2.2 – 2.8 crores (USD 314,290 – 400,000)

This painting was created by Nicholas Roerich in the early years of his career for the stage design of an opera based on the Russian folk tale Snegurochka, or The Snow Maiden, a fable about changing seasons.


The Snow Maiden in Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera, from The Vitrola Book of the Opera (1917). Wikimedia Commons.

The Snow Maiden is a girl made of snow who yearns for companionship, but whose heart lacks the ability to love. She eventually requests and is granted this power, but falling in love warms her heart and she melts.

In 1908, Roerich was commissioned by the Opera Comique in Paris to produce designs for Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera Snegurochka (The Snow Maiden), which was never performed. Over the next couple of decades, Roerich created the designs for four stage productions of Snegurochka. While creating such theatrical designs, whether for opera or ballet, he made easel paintings “that were considered masterpieces in their own right.” (Joseph C Troncale, “The Transcendent as Theatre in Roerich’s Paintings,” Manju Kak ed., Nicholas Roerich: A Quest and A Legacy, New Delhi: Niyogi Books, 2013, online)



amrita sher-gil

Amrita Sher-Gil, Untitled, 1923, watercolour on paper, 8.75 x 6.75 in. Estimate: INR 25 – 35 lakhs (USD 35,715 – 50,000)

This watercolour was painted by Amrita Sher-Gil in 1923, when she was just ten years old. It is based on the German fairy tale The Goose Girl, first published in 1815 by the Brothers Grimm.


“The Goose Girl,” The Blue Fairy Book, 1889. Wikimedia Commons.

The story follows the journey of a princess and her chambermaid, during which the princess is forced to dismount her horse and fetch water from a stream to quench her thirst – the scene Sher-Gil chose to portray. It progresses into a tale of deception, following the “false bride” plot, with truth ultimately victorious.

Sher-Gil, who displayed a prodigious talent for art from early childhood, was known to fill sketchbooks with drawings and watercolours often based on cinema and literature, of which this work is a fine example.



ganesh pyne

Ganesh Pyne, Untitled (Draupadi), conte on paper, 18.25 x 11.25 in. Estimate: INR 25 – 30 lakhs (USD 35,715 – 42,860)

Ganesh Pyne’s art is deeply personal and emerges from memories and images drawn from mythology, private dreams, and personal tragedies. At several points during his career, Pyne returned to the Mahabharata, which held a deep fascination for him. He has been quoted to have said, “There is no happiness in the Mahabharata.”

This rendition of Draupadi was part of the Mahabharata theme he painted. In his unique interpretations of the epic, he focussed on the protagonists as well as peripheral characters. The bright palette and frontal pose hint at folk art elements and present a variation on Pyne’s more typical play of darkness and shadow.




Asit Kumar Haldar, Untitled, 1953, pencil and gouache on paper, 28 x 20 in. Estimate: INR 6 – 8 lakhs (USD 8,575 – 11,430)

Asit Kumar Haldar was a painter, sculptor, writer and poet who was an influential member of the Bengal school. He often illustrated books on subjects ranging from the quatrains of Omar Khayyam to the literary works of his grand-uncle Rabindranath Tagore. He was admired for his detailed portrayals of scenes from Indian history, such as this painting of Queen Prabhavati, daughter of Emperor Chandra Gupta II, conducting the duties of the regency with her young son Divakara Sena on her lap.


Saffronart’s Evening Sale will be held at The Oberoi, New Delhi on 20 September. The auction is preceded by viewings at The Oberoi from 10 – 18 September, where these paintings will be on display among the other lots from the sale.

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