Kalamkari is a traditional Indian art form that involves intricate hand-painting or block-printing on cotton or silk fabric using natural dyes. Highly prized for their detailed designs, vibrant colors, and historical significance, Kalamkari paintings have been produced for over 3,000 years and passed down from generation to generation. To determine the authenticity of a Kalamkari painting, it's important to understand the art form's unique characteristics. Like Tanjore paintings, Kalamkari paintings have received a Geographical Indication (GI) status in India. This status recognizes their origin from a specific geographical location and attributes unique qualities or characteristics to them. The GI tag safeguards the authenticity and quality of Kalamkari paintings and provides legal protection against imitation or misuse of the name. If you're looking to purchase an authentic high-quality Kalamkari painting that represents the true beauty and value of this traditional Indian art form, here are some tips you can use!
1. An Authentically Strong Scent
Perhaps the biggest tell of whether or not a Kalamkari painting is authentic is its distinctive smell. Traditional Kalamkari paintings are known for having a distinct scent that is often described as a strong milk-like scent. This smell is a result of the traditional natural dyeing process used in creating Kalamkari paintings, which involves boiling the fabric in a mixture of water and alum. The use of natural dyes and the traditional techniques in Kalamkari painting make the smell a unique and significant characteristic of the artwork. It is important to note that this smell may fade over time, but it is still considered a vital aspect of the authenticity of the painting. In contrast, if a Kalamkari painting does not have the distinctive milk-like scent, it is likely that synthetic dyes were used instead of natural ones, which would indicate that the painting is not traditional or authentic. Therefore, the strong smell of milk is a critical aspect to consider when authenticating Kalamkari paintings.
2. The Human Factor
Small errors, blotches, and irregularities in the motives of Kalamkari paintings are a common occurrence due to the hand-painted nature of the art form. Unlike printed fabrics, Kalamkari paintings are entirely hand-drawn, and this human factor can sometimes result in imperfections in the finished product. However, these small errors are not considered defects but are instead viewed as a part of the art form's charm and uniqueness. In fact, the presence of small irregularities in Kalamkari paintings adds to their authenticity and value as each piece is one-of-a-kind. The human factor in Kalamkari paintings is an integral part of the art form's identity and is celebrated by art enthusiasts and collectors worldwide. The imperfect perfection of Kalamkari paintings is what makes them so special and valuable, and the small errors, blotches, and irregularities only add to their beauty and allure.
3. The Colours
Kalamkari paintings are known for their use of natural dyes made from various natural sources. The colours used in Kalamkari painting are typically earthy and muted, with a focus on red, black, and indigo blue. Some of the natural dyes commonly used in Kalamkari painting amongst many others include indigo, pomegranate, turmeric, and black (made from iron filings mixed with jaggery). Incidentally, all these colours also have a smell that is likely to be distinct when new which can also be helpful with figuring out the authenticity. These dyes are mixed with water and a mordant and applied to the fabric using a pen-like tool called a kalam. The fabric is then boiled in a mixture of water and alum to set the dyes.
4. Check the Back!
Checking the back of a Kalamkari painting can be a useful way to determine its authenticity. An authentic Kalamkari painting will typically show some bleeding of the natural dyes through the back of the fabric. This is due to the traditional dyeing process used in creating Kalamkari paintings, where the fabric is dipped in natural dyes and then excess dye is squeezed out. This bleeding is usually visible as discoloration or staining on the back of the painting. In contrast, if the back of the painting is completely clean or shows evidence of synthetic dyes bleeding through, it is likely a reproduction or a modern interpretation of the traditional art form. The background colour of traditional Kalamkari paintings is typically off-white or creamish, which adds to their distinctive appearance and beauty.
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