Punjab and Sikh Painting
Even though people think of Punjab painting as 19th century work done in 'Sikh Punjab' there is little doubt that painting in these parts goes back at least to the 16th century, when the 'Suba' of Lahore flourished under the Mughals.
In the beginning of the 19th century, it was the powerful Maharaja Ranjit Singh who defeated the last ruler of Kangra and captured the Punjab hills. Quite a number of Pahari artists accepted the patronage of the Sikh master. In the plains of Punjab in Lahore, Patiala and Amritsar several sets of paintings were produced which obviously had the signs of continuation of Pahari paintings.
After Ranjit Singh, Patiala became a great center of patronage. We have evidence of Pahari painters, like Nainsukh's great grandson, migrating to Patiala, as did painters from Alwar and Jaipur. In Patiala, apart from Sikh subjects, Hindu mythology was extensively painted as the whole approach was liberal.
A number of religious manuscripts were painted and the most famous amongst them is the Janam-Sakhi. Janamsakhi is the compilation of episodes of life of Guru Nanak, written in simple prose in response to the popular demand and need of the common man. “A quiet dignity, restraint mixed with deeply felt emotion, shines through them” (Dr. B.N Goswamy). In some, Guru Nanak dressed in his simple 'chola' (cloak) with a 'Seli topi' (cap) with Bala and Mardana (the rababi). For any painter it was a great task to envision a great being, like Nanak, to capture his essence, or that of the other Gurus.
Other subjects were from the life of the ten Sikh Gurus especially the tenth guru, Gobind Singh, who left a deep impression on the adherents of the new faith because of his bravery and unparalleled sacrifices.
A number of folios from the Janam Sakhi set and a few idealized portraits of the great Gurus, are a prized part of this collection, which is on display.
His spiritual status is marked by a golden nimbus and rosary in his right hand. The blue in the background gives a feeling of eternal sky. The folded curtain indicates the European influence but the painting gives an impression of being from Bikaner or Rajasthan - Deccan border area.
It is a fine portrait, and the 'tilak' (caste mark) on the forehead is rather unusual.
A rather stylized portrait of Maharaja Ranjit Singh with on expressive face with large eyes, twisted moustaches and long beard which falls to his chest, and a nimbus behind the head. A lotus flower on the right side of the face and the snake with multi hoods form a kind of oval frame around his figure.
The robust Sikh nobleman holds and pulls the string of the Garment of the woman who very timidly averts her glance from him. With folded curtain on the top it seems as if a theatrical act is being performed. The folk touch has raw vitality enhanced in the use of sharp and pure cobalt blue and use of intoxicating elements.
Guru Nanak seated on a throne under a tree surrounded by three visitors and in the foreground are a tiger and other animals. Earnest conversation seems to be in progress, where Guru Nanak is giving a discourse to the rovoltv. The four column Persian text
appears both on the top and in the bottom whereas the center occupies the painted area.