A marble statue of the Sikh ruler Maharajah Ranjit Singh (1780-1839) enthroned Northern India, circa 1900
Lot 390
A marble statue of the Sikh ruler Maharajah Ranjit Singh (1780-1839) enthroned Northern India, circa 1900
Sold for £24,000 (US$ 38,521) inc. premium

Lot Details
A marble statue of the Sikh ruler Maharajah Ranjit Singh (1780-1839) enthroned
Northern India, circa 1900
made in two sections, the division between the upper tier and cushion of the throne, depicted in a seated position with folded legs, relief carved with incised detailing
47.5 cm. high

Footnotes

  • Provenance: Formerly in a German private collection.

    The present lot does not depict Ranjit Singh in a lifelike way: but it is the blind eye, lost as a child as a result of smallpox, and more obviously the Golden Throne (now in the Victoria and Albert Museum), which mark him out instantly. His long, sharply tapering beard is here abbreviated. There is none of the foxy, wily look which comes across in almost all other depictions (and which by all accounts amply reflected his personality). There are even a few sculptures, made in Northern India, where the Maharajah is portrayed almost as a sort of hobgoblin, a caricature (see for example Christie's, Art of the Islamic and Indian Worlds, 7th October 2008, lot 242). Here he sits more majestically upright: in paintings he characteristically hunches forward.

    In both Indian miniature paintings and European depictions such as those by Augustus Schoefft and Emily Eden, Ranjit Singh is more commonly shown seated on a European-style chair, or on a bolster. One miniature of circa 1840 does show him on something closely resembling the Golden Throne (see W. Archer, Paintings of the Sikhs, London 1966, no. 28). In addition, he is normally shown - as in the well-known Emily Eden portrait - with one leg resting on a footstool (as in lot 357 in the present sale), a habit recorded by Eden from her own observation. 'He had a constant and curious trick, while sitting and engaged in conversation, of raising one of his legs under him on the chair, which he used in compliance with the customs of his European visitors, and then pulling off the stocking from that foot.' (Emily Eden, Portraits of the Princes and People of India, London 1844, caption to pl. 13; quoted by Archer, op. cit., p. 130).

    In the sculpture in this sale, this characteristic is avoided, both because it would presumably have been more difficult to carve, and in order to produce a more monumental effect. But while the sculptor has inevitably been influenced by earlier depictions and typical iconography, the work belongs to a later tradition which is often referred to as the 'historicising' style, which looks more to European methods of depiction and introduces 'heroic' elements in order to imply the power and the other qualities of the subject rather than to capture 'realistically' his idiosyncrasies. The most immediate comparison is the much larger marble sculpture of Ranjit Singh sold in these rooms recently (Bonhams, Islamic and Indian Art, 6th October 2008, lot 449). Not only was this on a scale reminiscent of European portrait busts, but it also owed a good deal to the tradition of titanic, heroic modelling which goes back to Michelangelo. The physically diminutive, sharp-featured Ranjit Singh was transformed into something more like the Italian sculptor's figure of Moses made for the tomb of Pope Julius II.

    The sculpture cannot be attributed to a known artist, though the European influence points to a relatively late date, and it is very likely to be the product of a graduate of the art schools established by the British (one of the first and best-known being the Sir J. J. School of Art in Bombay, set up in 1857). More pertinent for the North Indian origin of the work is the Mayo School of Art in Lahore, which opened in 1875, and of which Lockwood Kipling (Rudyard Kipling's father) was Principal.
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