The first time we heard about this collection was a few years ago. The master Nepali artist, Mukti Singh Thapa, mentioned it casually as we sipped masala tea at his leafy home in Patan, suggesting that he had left a few paintings in Seattle in the early 1990’s. 

In the mid-1970s, Mukti was learning his craft after moving to Kathmandu from the small hill town of Bandipur that overlooked 8,156 meter Manaslu and the Himalayan skyline. After several years toiling as an apprentice, Mukti was first recognised by winning the Grand Prize at the National Art Competition. This was 1977 and Mukti had just turned twenty.

Shortly after winning this award, Mukti was invited to have a one-person exhibition at the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok. This was his first international show. As the 1980s dawned, Mukti’s acclaim increased among American scholars, collectors and galleries. He was invited to the US in 1989 for his first American tour. He visited Santa Fe, Philadelphia, Boston and New York and his art was met with awe. Art lovers who were unfamiliar with thangka, or paubha, paintings couldn’t believe that his works were painted by hand.

He returned to the US in 1993 for additional exhibitions in Cleveland, Michigan, Atlanta and Seattle. Mukti’s international recognition grew as he had a show at the Nicholas Roerich Museum in New York City (1992), was featured in the ‘Art of Microsoft’ exhibition in the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle (1993), and had works from the collection of Shelley and Donald Rubin displayed at the Oglethorpe University Museum of Art in Atlanta (1994). 

Following this final exhibition, Mukti left his paintings with his dear friends, Russell and Barbara Johnson in Seattle (Mukti's photo above is by Russell). He planned to incorporate this art into his next American tour. But this tour never came.

Twenty-five years passed and we were planning a trip to Seattle last year. We reached out to Mukti and he thought it a wonderful idea if we could pick up his paintings. We met Mukti’s friends and shared wonderful stories of Mukti’s warmth and hospitality. Clearly, Mukti is loved far and wide. 

Then they pulled out a large tube of art and started showing us the collection piece by piece. Mukti had told us that there were ‘a few’ paintings. There were twenty-three fabulous works of art!

Mukti Singh Thapa's Early Thangka Paubha Collection At Mahakala Fine Arts

We could not hide our excitement. The collection spanned small pieces to large masterpieces. We have seen many of Mukti’s paintings from the 21st century, but this collection extended the story. Now we could see Mukti’s long professional career, stretching over thirty years. We could see his development as an artist, from his youthful energy to master craftsman. Looking at similar subjects from early in his career to later (see two Mahakala Heads from 1989 and 2015), it is fascinating to see the change.

What is also intriguing is the progression of how Mukti has signed his work. His older pieces are often not signed at all, as was the custom for religious art. Patrons were interested in the gods depicted, not in the artists, and did not want the painting sullied by a signature. Other pieces in this collection are signed in Nepali script as Mukti primarily had a domestic audience in the 1980s. It was only in the 1990s, as he gained interest in Western markets, that Mukti started to sign his artwork in English. 

As a traditional artist, Mukti has stayed true to age-old painting techniques. He uses hand-ground mineral pigments such as lapis lazuli, azurite and ultramarine for blues, cinnabar, vermillion and lac (an insect) for reds, orpiment for yellow, chalk for white, carbon for black, and 24 carat gold. These pigments are applied to cotton canvas that has been gessoed with white clay or chalk and natural animal glue, then polished smooth by hand with a river stone. This hardens the canvas and also produces a smooth surface to paint the fine details of these works. These methods are labor intensive and seldomly used by today’s artists, but Mukti and a few other masters still employ them to produce other-worldly artwork.

We hope you enjoy this remarkable collection of Mukti Singh Thapa's 'Early Collection' as much as we do. We will be sharing all twenty-three paintings over time, and are starting with these six stunning pieces. 

To see Mukti Singh Thapa's entire collection spanning the 1980s to today, visit his gallery. Please write to us at should you have any questions about Mukti Singh Thapa and his sensational art.