Arts of the Islamic World & India including Fine Rugs and Carpets

Arts of the Islamic World & India including Fine Rugs and Carpets

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 44. The court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, ascribed to Bishan Singh (d. circa 1900), North India, Lahore or Amritsar, dated 1927 VS/circa 1870-71 AD.

The court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, ascribed to Bishan Singh (d. circa 1900), North India, Lahore or Amritsar, dated 1927 VS/circa 1870-71 AD

Auction Closed

March 31, 12:40 PM GMT


40,000 - 60,000 GBP

Lot Details


gouache heightened with gold on paper, inscribed and dated in Gurmukhi on the balustrade near the lower edge bishan singh mussavir huth naal banaayi gayi 1927 (made by the hand of Bishan Singh the artist 1927 VS)

37.5 by 46.5cm.

Ex-private collection, Europe, since 1980s.
This painting depicts the court of the first Sikh ruler, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, within Lahore Fort surrounded by his sons, ministers, generals and attendants. Ranjit Singh, popularly known as Sher-e Punjab (the Lion of Punjab) is depicted in the centre seated on his famous golden throne. Made by Hafiz Muhammad Multani, a leading Muslim goldsmith in his atelier, the throne is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum (acc. no.2518(IS). Members of Ranjit Singh’s family are seated to his right, including his son Kharak Singh who succeeded his father as the second Maharaja of the Sikh Empire, Sher Singh beside Kharak Singh, and Duleep Singh as a young boy seated further down. Among the Sikh noblemen on his left are Baba Ram Singh Vasti, his spiritual advisor, Raja Gulab Singh, the first Maharaja of Kashmir, and Raja Dhian Singh, his prime minister. Ranjit Singh’s administrator, Diwan Dina Nath, is seated on the red carpet accompanied by one of his clerks.

The present painting is closely comparable to an illustration in the Toor Collection which is a larger and slightly earlier, circa 1864, version of this scene (D. Toor, In Pursuit of Empire – Treasures from the Toor Collection of Sikh Art, London, 2018, pp. 90-95). The painting in the Toor Collection includes additional figures of seated noblemen and standing attendants around Maharaja Ranjit Singh, a hilly landscape with an encampment in the background, and an arched doorway with Sikh guards in the lower right section. The surviving fragment of the cover sheet is inscribed in Gurmukhi with the name of the artist, Bishan Singh. The three seated noblemen in the foreground of the Toor illustration have been replaced with a balustrade in our painting which bears a similar Gurmukhi inscription and a vikram samvat date. A bespectacled figure, not seen in the earlier version, is depicted in profile just behind the balustrade.

The present lot is also strikingly similar to a painting attributable to Bishan Singh formerly in the Edwin Binney 3rd Collection, now in the San Diego Museum of Art, depicting Maharaja Sher Singh and his companions watching a dance performance (acc. no.1990.1348; B.N. Goswamy and C. Smith, Domains of Wonder, San Diego, 2005, fig. no.112, pp.262-3). All three paintings are richly detailed with a similar arrangement of seated and standing figures against a grand architectural setting of arches, jharokhas, and terraces. The bright reds and acidic greens on the clothing and textiles, echoed in the colours of the detailed pietra dura architectural decoration, are in stark contrast to the pale background of the buildings.

A painting depicting a Kashmir shawl weaving workshop, inscribed in Gurmukhi in the lower left corner with the name of Bishan Singh and dated vikram samvat 1931 (circa 1874 AD), similar to the present lot, is in the Musée Guimet, Paris (acc. no.MA 12702). Another painting attributable to Bishan Singh, which depicts ‘Dost Muhammad being received by Sher Singh in Lahore on his way to regain the throne of Kabul’, is in the Kapany Collection (Susan Stronge (ed.), The Arts of the Sikh Kingdoms, London 1999, no.189, pp.166-7). A further example, depicting a nautch being performed for Maharaja Sher Singh, attributable to Bishan Singh, is in the private collection of Prince and Princess Sadruddin Aga Khan ( M.301; S. Canby, Princes, Poets and Paladins, London, 1998, no.145, p.186).

The artist Bishan Singh, often known as Baba Bishan Singh, came from a family of artists working in Punjab in the second half of the nineteenth century. Although mainly working in Lahore and Amritsar, the family is also known to have worked in the neighbouring princely states of Kapurthala, Patiala and Nabha. Bishan Singh and his brother, Kishan Singh, worked as muralists at important Sikh shrines in Amritsar such as the Akal Takht and the Golden Temple (ibid, pp.93-94). The Exhibition of Arts and Crafts held at Lahore in 1864 displayed ten paintings by Bishan Singh including ‘Darbars of Ranjit Singh, Sher Singh and the Municipal Committee, Amritsar’ (W.G. Archer, Paintings of the Sikhs, London, 1966, p.61). The durbar scene of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in the Toor Collection was among the ten works.

A self portrait of the artist sold at Bonhams London, 25 October 2007, lot 483. A large illustration of daily life in a bustling town in Punjab, attributed to Bishan Singh, sold at Rosebery’s, 15 April 2016, lot 131.