Sikh History & Personalities

What do you know of Sikh Paintings?

The Sikh school of painting is a distinct contribution to Indian art. The School originated in the days of Maharaja Ranjit Singh who was a liberal patron of arts. He also employed artists who decorate and panel the Golden Temple, Amritsar.

According to W.G. Archer, there are three district branches of the Sikh School: Guler Paintings, Kangra Paintings and Lahore Paintings. Guler became a part of Ranjit Singh’s kingdom in 1813. Guler artists who had worked earlier on Rajput themes, now began to experiment with Sikh themes like the portrait of Sikh Gurus and Sikh dignitaries. The Kangra painters, when Kangra came under the control of Raja Sher Singh, son of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, portrayed Sikhs as aristocrats and lovers. The Lahore painters specialized in portrait of water color miniatures. Schoefft, a Hungarian artist, drew sketches of the Golden Temple in the days of Raja Sher Singh. Between the fall of the Sikh empire and the twenties of this present century, flourished Sikh painters like Kishen Singh of Kapurthala, Bishan Singh of Amritsar and Kapur Singh.

Sikh painting is primarily of portraiture. It deals with historical characters and historical events. Sikh portraiture developed from the political struggle and it is through understanding the roles which certain individuals played, that we can understand their significance in painting.

One of the outstanding painters was Amrita Shergill (1913-41). Another artist named Gian Singh did a good deal of fresco painting on the inner walls and arches of the Golden Temple. His work in human, religious, floral and zoological motifs may be seen on the roof and corridors of the Temple. His technique is called Mohra Qashi.

Among contemporary painters, S.G. Thakur Singh and Sobha Singh are prominent. S. Kirpal Singh has executed a number of large canvas paintings for the S.G.P.C. He has dealt particularly with themes of the persecution of the Sikhs by the Mughal Governments in the 17th and 18th centuries. An exhibition of paintings of Guru Nanak was held in November, 1965, at Dehli by the “1969 Group.” Mr. W.G. Archer has printed 119 plates in his book entitled Paintings of the Sikhs London (1966). The latest book entitled Sikh Portraits by European Artists, and edited by F.S. Aijzuddin also throws light on social and cultural leaders of the Panjab.