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Scènes de vie au Harmandir Sahib, le Temple d’Or d’Amritsar Inde du nord, Penjab, Amritsar, signé Bishan Singh, vers 1850-72.
A Large View of the Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) in Amritsar Signed Bishan Singh Punjab, North India, circa 1850-72.
Opaque and transparent pigments on paper, depicting the Golden Temple and the sacred pool around it, devotees stand on the circumambulation path around the pool occupied with various tasks. On the left, three saddhus prepare bhang, a scribe is writing a text on a long scroll whilst a Nihang wearing a conical blue turban and armed with a stick stands behind him, other figures are combing their hair, a mother and her child stand on the right. Bathers swim in the sacred pool. The Darbar Sahib and the dense city of Amritsar are visible behind the Harmandir Sahib. Signed in gold Gurmukhi in the top right corner “Bishan Singh Musavar Ambaratsr Ji” [Bishan Singh Ji Painter [of] Amritsar].
Page 48.2 x 64.7 cm. Painting 34.2 x 50.9 cm.
Condition: occasional foxing and soiling, small tears in the margins, reverse with remnant of the former backing material.
Provenance: French Private Collection since at least the first half of the 20th century, purportedly brought back from Indochina by the current owner’s ancestor.
Fees 24% : (VAT included).
Expert : Cabinet MC David Expertises assisté de Camille Celier et Romain Pingannaud.
Please note that it takes around four months for a French export licence to be granted. The export licences for lot 6 and lot 7 were applied for in May 2021. A further EU export licence will be necessary should the buyer export the lots outside of the EU. The application for a EU export licence can only be submitted once the French export licence has been granted. It takes between two to four weeks for the EU export licence to be granted.
This previously unrecorded painting of devotees at the Harmandir Sahib, also known as the Golden Temple, is an important discovery which adds to our knowledge of Bishan Singh and his oeuvre. This large-scale view of the sacred site appears to be the only known painting by Bishan Singh where the Golden Temple is prominently depicted. His style is immediately identifiable: he specialises in large gatherings of people, focusing on minute details and vibrant colours. He often works on large sheets of paper (this page is nearly 65cm. wide) and give great attention to the crowd of figures engaged in a multitude of different tasks. Bishan Singh (1836-1900) was from a family of artists who were active in Lahore and Amritsar in the second half of the 19th century. The family was responsible for the mural decoration of the Sikh Holy sites such as the Golden Temple and the Akal Takht. Bishan Singh learned his art at the Golden Temple with his brother Kishan Singh. In 1864, he exhibited ten works at the Punjab Exhibition of Arts and Craft in Lahore for which he received the top prize in the paintings category and were described as “the most clever and truthful paintings” on display (Toor 2018, p.93). His favourite subject seems to have been Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839), his son Maharaja Sher Singh (1807-46) and their flamboyant court. A painting in the Kapany collection depicting a royal reception held by Sher Singh, dated to circa 1845, indicates that Bishan Singh’s style was firmly established early on in his career. Two paintings depicting Ranjit Singh and his Court were sold at Christie’s, 8 October 2008, lot 245 (now in the Toor Collection, London) and at Sotheby’s, London, 31 March 2021, lot 44. They are dated 1864 and 1871-72 respectively - the dating of these three works suggests that our painting was executed in the same decades, sometime between 1850 and 1872. A note in French on the lower margin of the painting of Women in an Ox-Drawn Carriage (see following lot) gives the date of 1872, providing a terminus post quem for the works which must have been acquired together by their original owner. The paintings of Bishan Singh were known in France as early as the 1860s and it is possible that this painting of the Harmandir Sahib arrived in France as early as 1872. Numerous French officers were present in the entourage of the Sikh Maharajas in Lahore and in the 1860s and 1870s, French importers of Kashmir shawls had representatives in Amritsar and Lahore. Bishan Singh appeared to have painted a series of works on the making of Kashmir shawls for the 1867 Paris Great Exhibition. In January 1867, magazine Le Monde Illustré published three of his paintings (Toor 2018, p.280). A painting of a Kashmir Shawl Weavers is in the Musée Guimet, Paris (No MA 12702), dated 1874-75. The Golden Temple is the main holy site of Sikhism around which was built the city of Amritsar. Angad Dev, the second of the ten Sikh Gurus, first identified the place which became the Darbar Sahib, the sacred space in the middle of which stands the Golden Temple. The sacred pool was dug out between 1573 and 1577 and the foundation stone of the Harmandir Sahib was laid in 1588 by the fifth Guru, Arjun Dev (Stronge 1999, pp.50-51). Rebuilt numerous times, the Harmandir Sahib is at the centre of Sikh culture and many Indian and non-Indian artists have depicted the holy site. In this painting, the Golden Temple is visible in the background, standing in the middle of the sacred water. The city of Amritsar, built around the temple, spreads beyond the temple walls. Bishan Singh depicted the dense cityscape above which fly small kites. Other religious sites are visible such as the Baba Atal and numerous bungas (residences of regional governors). Bishan Singh vividly depicted the animation on the circumambulation path around the pool (parkarma). Devotees bathe in the sacred waters, some with their chignons worn high on top of their head or others untied. Further half-naked devotees perform ablutions. Bishan Singh’s talent at capturing daily life is seen here at its best. The composition of this painting relates to that of a View of Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir. The painting, dated 1872, was offered at Christie’s, London, 10 June 2015, lot 109 (Private Collection, USA). There, the foreground depicts men performing their ablutions in the Jhelum river. The city of Srinagar spreads across the opposite bank, whilst the Jhelum river, like the sacred pool in our painting, occupies the middle ground. The two paintings illustrate Bishan Singh’s exceptional talent at depicting dense cities as well as their inhabitants. Only a handful of paintings by Bishan Singh appear to be published and the quality of our painting is on par with his most celebrated works kept in public and private collections around the world. See for instance the Court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in the Toor Collection, London, mentioned above; the Procession of Maharaja Sher Singh and His Sons in the Aga Khan Museum, Toronto (AKM 203); Ateliers de tisserands de châles du Cachemire in Musée Guimet, Paris (no. MA 12702); Maharaja Sher Singh and Companions Watching a Dance Performance in the San Diego Museum of Art (no. 1990.1348); Dost Muhammad being received by Sher Singh in Lahore on his way to regain the throne of Kabul in the Kapany Collection (see Stronge 1999, no.189, pp.166-7 and Archer 1966, p.61). Lastly, a large painting depicting Amritsar, where the Golden Temple appears in the distance above the rooflines, was sold at Roseberys near London, 15 April 2016, lot 131.