Mar 18, 2014

Barber Cleaning a Woman’s Ear

Barber Cleaning a Woman’s Ear

c. 1890

Gum tempera, graphite, ink, and tin on paper

Secondary Support: 47.8 x 29.7 cm (18 13/16 x 11 11/16 in.); Painting only: 45.3 x 28.4 cm (17 13/16 x 11 3/16 in.)

Gift of William E. Ward in memory of his wife, Evelyn Svec Ward 2003.117



Kalighat paintings reflect the time and context in which they were created. Kalighat painters used their medium to offer penetrating and insightful critiques of British-influenced Indians as well as the British themselves through satires and caricatures. Newly rich Bengali native Indian clerks (babus) aspired to dress and behave like their British masters, and Kalighat painters taunted them for this. A chinless barber with cleaning pins tucked in his turban is cleaning the ears of a lady customer. A fashionable woman, she smokes a hookah and exposes one breast to her flirtatious barber. As the Bengali babus spent time with their mistresses and courtesans, neglected wives and concubines were portrayed as relying on the company of their servants.

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