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Historic Unveiling of Iconic Ranjit Singh Painting

NEWS REPORT

 

The highlight of this year's glittering Spinning Wheel Gala on Friday night - the 25th of September, 2009 - was the historic unveiling of what may quickly become the most powerful and iconic image of Maharajah Ranjit Singh - not unlike the impact Franz Winterhalter's Duleep Singh has had for the last century and a half on the world's art scene.

Manu Kaur Saluja's latest creation in oil on canvas - a life-size ‘Ranjit, The Young Lion' - was unveiled by Canada's senior Federal Minister, the Rt. Hon. Jason Kenney, on behalf of the Prime Minister and the Government of Canada, at the renowned Royal Ontario Museum in the heart of downtown Toronto, Canada.

Approximately 500 guests from around the world - some from as far away as India, New Zealand, France and U.K., as well as from the length and breadth of The United States and Canada - were present to celebrate this historic occasion as well as the commencement of The Seventh Annual Spinning Wheel Film Festival.

The stunning portrait was part of a duo unveiled that evening, the other being Manu Kaur`s other masterpiece - `The Maharaja Duleep Singh After F.X. Winterhalter`.

The two paintings will later, after the end of the Spinning Wheel Film Festival, form the focus of a special Sikh art exhibit in the Ondaatje South Asian Gallery of The Royal Ontario Museum for four months, between November this year and the end of March 2010.

The exhibit entitled ``The story of the Sikh Empire of Punjab (1801-1849)`` tells of a saga which opens with triumph and closes with tragedy.

At the turn of the 19th century, when the territories of northern India had fallen into a shambles of infighting and isolation, the Sikh Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839) rose to power by consolidating a fractured political landcape, in a series of sweeping military and diplomatic victories. His vast empire comprised almost 200,000 square miles of what is now Afghanistan, Pakistan, Northern India and the Himalayan kingdoms. His charismatic rule (1799-1839) was secular and widely admired for its civil justice, political shrewdness and flourishing artistic patronage.

After Ranjit Singh's death, the empire fell badly on the shoulders of his sons, the last being the Maharajah Duleep Singh (1838-1893) who was crowned at age five and deposed six years later in 1849 when the British annexed the kingdom. The British isolated the young prince from his family, converted him to Christianity and exiled him to England in 1854 where most of the spoils of the Sikh Kingdom and his grave remain today.

Manu Kaur Saluja's portraits of father and son equalize an old imbalance: Duleep Singh, as an intriguing and exotic subject for Queen Victoria, was painted by Franz Xaver Winterhalter in a ravishing, royal style. The young prince had the portrait but no Kingdom.

His father, Ranjit Singh, by age nineteen, was by all accounts a fierce and revered conquerer. Yet existing portraits of him often depict a humble, white bearded sovereign in modest dress. Manu Kaur Saluja's painting uses her Western aesthetic of classical realism to give Maharaja Ranjit Singh a royal portrait he deserved.

 

THE PAINTINGS

Ranjit - The Young Lion

[1780-1839]

Manu Kaur Saluja

New York, United States of America

Oil on Canvas

2009

 

Manu Kaur Saluja portrays a youthful Ranjit Singh with the gaze and potent posture of a warrior king who earned the title ‘Lion of the Punjab' (Sher-e-Punjab). Her extensive research brought her to England where she was given rare access to the Sikh artifacts depicted in the painting. The Maharaja wears a helmet designed to accommodate the unshorn hair that identifies a Sikh. His shield contains miniature portraits of him, his sons, generals and advisors all identified by Persian inscriptions. Seated on his octagonal Golden Throne in full dress armour, he wears the famed Koh-i-Noor diamond (shown in it's original setting) on his right arm. The result is a tour-de-force of colours, textures and allegorical detail.

 

The Maharajah Duleep Singh after F.X. Winterhalter

[1837-93]

 

Manu Kaur Saluja

New York, United States of America

Oil on Canvas

2005

 

Winterhalter's ravishing portrait of Duleep Singh, commissioned by Queen Victoria in 1854, has been embraced as an icon by the Sikh diaspora. The 16 year old Maharajah stands bedecked in jewels, including a miniature portrait of the Queen at his neck. Manu Kaur Saluja was granted permission to study the original painting privately at the Royal Collection's Conservation Center, outside Windsor Castle. Working from her own pastel sketches and photographs, her copy is one of the most faithful reproductions of Winterhalter's masterpiece ever made.

 

 [For a view of the full painting, and of Manu's other work, please visit http://www.manusaluja.com/]

September 27, 2009

Conversation about this article

1: Gurjeet Kaur (Abu Dhabi, UAE), September 27, 2009, 4:20 PM.

Your painting is a masterpiece. But somehow, couldn't see all of it. Wish you all the best.

2: P. Singh (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), September 27, 2009, 11:04 PM.

Beautiful painting! However, there is one pretty significant error - well, significant to anyone interested in swords - the hilt is wrong. In a painting of a warrior, I wish more attention had been paid to his weapon. Shamshir hilts, like talwar hilts, are single-handed affairs - they are not what are called hand-and-a-half swords. The hilt should have fit his hand much tighter. As it is, it just looks wrong. I know I should focus on the rest of the beautiful painting, but my eye keeps being drawn back to that hilt! [Editor: This sword, including the hilt, has been painted from the original item, which the artist personally examined.]

3: Michele Gibson (Ontario, Canada), September 28, 2009, 8:12 AM.

These are two of the most magnificent portraits I have ever seen. The towering figure of Ranjit is both imposing and benevolent. Manu has composed a work of extraordinary beauty and historical import. To see both grand portraits side by side is breathtaking, I cannot wait to see them again.

4: Sandeep Singh Brar (Canada), September 28, 2009, 12:42 PM.

Manu is an amazing artist, creating some of the most lifelike portraits I've ever seen. I've never come across any historical written account or painting from either the Ranjit Singh pre- or post- 19th century showing the Sarkar wearing a khula khud helmet, although I have found a few references visual and descriptive of some Sikh sardars wearing the traditional pointy khula khud with two herron feather holders and nose guard, sometimes with a turban wrapped around it. The domed khula khud helmets depicted in the painting were also used by the Rajhastanis and a few of these Rajput ones are in the Delhi museums national collection. Although I have never seen an image of a Sikh wearing such a domed helmet, an image of one listed as belonging to the Lahore armoury does appear in Egerton's classic 1880 Catalogue of Indian Arms, considered one of the pioneering definitive works in the area of Sikh and Indian arms.

5: Balkar Singh (London. England), September 28, 2009, 12:59 PM.

Why is Maharaja Ranjit Singh wearing a helmet and not a dastaar? [Editor: The artist has tried to make the portrait as historically accurate as possible. Battle helmets, made of metal and mail, were specially made for and worn by Sikh warriors to accommodate their joorrhas and under-turbans. The Maharaja is shown here as a young warrior, ready for battle. The question then may arise - why is he sitting on his throne, while dressed for battle? Answer: this is a portrait to celebrate the memory of the Maharaja. It is done from imagination and tries to capture different elements associated with his life. It's neither a photograph nor a painting done contemporaneously.]

6: Baljit Singh Rihal, JP (London, U.K.), September 28, 2009, 1:20 PM.

Congratulations to Manu Kaur for producing an absolute masterpiece. Great to finally see a painting depicting a youthful Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

7: Singh (U.S.A.), September 28, 2009, 3:48 PM.

Beautifully painted.

8: Kuldip Singh (Birmingham, U.K.), October 25, 2009, 1:31 AM.

Simply stunning! I really don't have the words. In response to P. Singh of Vancouver, I agree that the hilt is incorrect and too long. I have seen the actual sword (located at The Wallace Collection - London) and can confirm this. However, this said, I do not agree that it detracts from a wonderful piece.

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