The sudden appearance of this art in Kangra has an air of intriguing mystery for, until its emergence in about the year 1780, the State appears to have had no developed school of painting. From 1751 to 1774, its ruler, Raja Ghamand Chand, had achieved fresh heights of feudal glory. He seems, however, to have been entirely indifferent to art. Only four portraits of him are known to exist and these are all in a style which is only a rough version of a more northerly school of painting as propagated by the Sikhs. Between their clumsy crudities and the delicate refinements of Kangra painting proper, there is such a gulf that wherever these particular portraits may have been painted, they provide no clue to later developments. Yet in spite of this dead blank, a great style arose and there are two factors which seem to have played a crucially important role. The first was the accession to the Kangra throne in 1775 of a quite exceptional patron. The second was the existence in a nearby State of master-artists suitable for employment.
Neither of these circumstances, had they occurred in isolation, could have produced a major art. It was their accidental combination which led to the special situation out of which the Kangra style arose. Yet besides these important circumstances, one other factor must also be taken into account. There is a sense in which Kangra painting could only have arisen in the Punjab Hills. Its special cult of innocent womanhood was the product of Rajput traditions as they had developed in isolation. In Rajputana, Mughal influence had been all-pervasive and while a number of indigenous styles had come to brusque maturity, they were generally wanting in precisely that quality which most distinguishes Kangra painting—the quality of elegant idealism. We can only explain this difference by realizing that in the Punjab Hills, Rajput culture had enjoyed a greater freedom and that, as a consequence, its painting expressed with more directness the basic sentiments of the courts. It was because both patron and artists were imbued with the same emotional attitudes that Kangra painting was able to achieve its exquisite heights.
The artists whose presence was such a vital prerequisite for Kangra art were all associated with the petty State of Guler. This had originally been founded as an offshoot of Kangra and, lying lower down the Kangra valley, it had, therefore, been more accessible from the Punjab plains. It was not, however, until about the year 1720 and then only as a result of infiltration from the little State of Basohli that any local style of painting seems to have been developed. Some years earlier, under Raja Kirpal Pal (c. 1678-93), Basohli had owned the most flourishing school of painting in the Punjab Hills. Marked by 'savage intensity', the style was notable for its burning angry colours, its violent distortions and for a certain suave barbaric grace. About 1700, however, a gradual dispersal of Basohli artists had begun and, as a result, not only were such northern States as Jammu, Bandhralta and Chamba affected but what is more significant for our purpose, the more southerly one of Guler.