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Arts/Society Painting in the Sikh Period

Discussion in 'Language, Arts & Culture' started by spnadmin, May 14, 2010.

  1. spnadmin

    spnadmin United States
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    Painting in the Sikh Period

    Painting in the Sikh Period



    It might be contrary to the thoughts of many that Sikhs were great patrons of art in their days, the 19th century Sikh courts, took great care of the artistic activity. During the regime of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, peace and economic stability caused the court to patronize various artistic activities; painting in this period got enriched with the western influences while the artists of the hill states and Delhi whom, Ranjit Singh asked to settle in Lahore, carried out some works of genius. Ranjit Singh is considered as a liberal minded person, fully aware of the significance of Art and its impact, although for many, Ranjit Singh is just a Sikh Ruler who ruined the architectural accomplishments of the Mughals in Lahore, but contrary to his successors, who just ruined their lives while battling with each other, Ranjit Singh in his court, patronized different art forms, painting was never left behind.


    Apart from the Raja, many nobles, rich merchants and Mahants (religious leaders) commissioned different painters to carry out paintings, on diverse subjects; from secular to the religious ones. After this hype, the tradition of painting got deteriorated to level to be called as ‘Bazar Style’ that marked the end of royal court activity regarding painting. Painting in the Sikh period, got through different stages, but no one could leave an impact on the total scenario of art, few individuals like Parkhu tried to work on their own but ultimately, no one could contribute on a noticeable level. Portraiture was something that appealed the Sikh rulers the most.



    W.G Archer in his book “Paintings of the Sikh” has described the reason behind this Attraction as:


    “The Sikhs had no traditional mythology or imagery and, as their history shows, they also had no feudal system. Their history is, in essence, a struggle for two kinds of freedom: spiritual and political. The first was achieved through the teaching of their ten leaders or Gurus while Maharaja Ranjit Singh conquered the second one. Sikh portraiture developed from this struggle and it was only by realizing the roles which certain individuals played that we can understand their place in painting.”


    Punjab has got a unique feature regarding influences on art, as it was only this province where, artists adapted themselves to the changing atmosphere; they did it in such a brief period of time and so diligently that many of them started to paint prolifically in the western style, so skillfully that they could have comparison with the works of European painters.


    This was the background, which later provided the foundation to the modern Punjabi painters like Amrita Shergil and Malla Ram, RL Malhotra and many others. This period of one hundred and fifty years was very important to the years to come. Court painting with special reference to miniatures became the peculiarity of the Mughal courts, which even after the decline and fall of the great Mughal Empire did not vanish at once.



    Solid traditions and practices take years to be established and so is the case in becoming extinct.


    After the fall of the Mughal Empire, the legendary court painters, in search of their bread and butter sought asylum in the hill-states of Punjab where, due to geographical safety and economic stability, the Sikhs were in peace while the planes of Punjab were in a period of turmoil. The hill-states of Kangra, Guler, Basohli and Chamba, during this period emerged as the safe havens for the Mughal style of miniature painting to survive. Most of the Mughal court painters along with their families, who were successors of the traditional skill of painting as it ran in the family from father to son and from uncle to the nephew, shifted to these hill-states and caused the development of a new school; the Pahari School of Painting.


    Pahari painting got popularity at a great extent, even for the critics to come who attributed this art to the hill states, while the painters who were working there at the hill-states were in a practice to move down to the planes in winter where they had established their workshops to carry out painting during their stay. So the painting done in the planes was also labeled as “Pahari” while in reality, there could not be found any art activity in the Pahari states in any other periods than the time of turmoil in the planes when the painters of Punjab took asylum in those hill states.


    The phase when the Sikhs got stability in their rule in the Planes, under the rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, caused these painters to come down again and work for a court which was very friendly with art and artists and became a true patronage for them. The 2nd half of the 19th century marked the development of such painting. Moreover, what had been produced in the hill states was a product of the same artists.


    The unstable Sikh rule after the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, was striving for a central government and Sikh princes were at daggers drawn for capturing the throne, causing many to lose their lives. The lust for the throne, let few princes to be crowned as Raja, but only for few days and then the rival was in power after slaughtering his successor. This chaos did not allow any proper art or painting style to get flourished and the already evolved style of the Mughal, Pahari and Western style (Which came here with the French officers of Ranjit Singh’s Court) sustained in the years to come in the 20th century art in this part of the world


    Categorically we can divide Sikh painting into three genres, Miniature painting, Ivories and Mural painting. As a royal tradition linked with the Mughal courts, miniature painting has become an activity to document and preserve important events and persons in terms of visuals. This tradition inspired the Sikh Rajas at a great level that they continued this practice in their rule. The Mughals under the influence of the Persian tradition of painting used to capture hunt and battle scenes, processions and portraits while the illustration of the religious and interesting secular texts were other popular subjects. The Sikhs paid more attention towards the art of portraits. Different Sikh Rajas got themselves painted along with their swords and jewels, in royal dresses and ornaments. The best-known painters of that time, naturally for the sake of monetary attraction, painted for the royal court. Imam Baksh Lahori was one such name.


    Other important segments of the society at that time got indulge in the frescoes painting. The walls of the Havelis of rich people, Gurudwaras, Temples, Akharas and Dharamshalas were adorned with fresco paintings.


    Other than these solid traditions of painting, the religious scriptures had been illustrated since the Rajput and Mughal times. Sikhs got their Granth Sahib (the holy book of Sikhs) illustrated with important events of the lives of different Gurus. Activities of Guru Nanak were depicted and illustrated with text around the image, a style that could be traced back to Kalpasutra; the sacred illustration of the Jains, that style was later enriched by the Mughals when they kept on illustrating religious, secular and popular texts.


    Later European visitors were astonished to see the splendor of the Sikh court. They recorded their impressions very enthusiastically. The officials like John McCosh, after being appointed in 1849 in Lahore through his photographs, tried to capture the lavishness of the Sikh royal family. Just after the Ghadr or war of independence in 1857, the demand by the Britons of documenting the fallen empire, for administrative requirements, became pivotal. British army officers, amateurs and professionals started to document events with their pen, brush and camera. Other than them, commissioners and other important officers used to capture people, buildings and social activities through watercolor, prints and oil colors which enhanced the western style of painting in this part of the world and ultimately influenced the royal Sikh court. The European perspective is evident in paintings by George Beechey, William Simpson, and William Carpenter. Mid-century albumen prints by Bourne and Shepherd and Felice Beato documented important sites and prominent individuals.


    It was Sikh period when the painting style started to turn from aboriginal stylized miniature style to the western realistic one and provided the foundation to the “Company Painting”; a style that marked the beginning of modern art across the subcontinent.
     

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  3. spnadmin

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    Attached you will find a PowerPoint presentation. The images are taken from exhibitions at the Victoria and Albert Museum. They cover the period discussed in the article agove: i.e., the Sikh period covering the end of the 18th Century into the 19th Century.

    There is some excellent background for these images. Navigate to this link,
    Sikhism - Victoria and Albert Museum

    Then click on the links under Sikhism to see a variety of articles where the images are published. A lot of interesting historical information can be found if you go one level down.

    Enjoy
     

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