Lion of Punjab sale price tops £100,000
A white marble bust of the Sikh emperor who once owned the Koh-i-Noor diamond was sold for £110,000 at Bonhams, the London auction house.
Sculpted in India around 1900, the bust of Ranjit Singh had only been expected to fetch up to £70,000 in the auctioneer’s Indian and Islamic auction sale.
It passed from a private owner into the hands of another private owner, of Indian heritage.
Clare Penhallurick, head of Indian and Islamic Art, said Bonhams was delighted to be able to handle the sale, having sold a bust of Ranjit Singh’s son Duleep Singh for £1.7 million last year.
Ranjit Singh was the last effective ruler of an independent state in the Punjab in north-west India. His influence stretched from the Indian Ocean to the Himalayas but his death signalled the end of the empire. Ten years later it was being run by the East India Company, supported by a British governor-general – and the Koh-i-Noor was the property of Queen Victoria.
Ranjit Singh possessed precocious military and political abilities. While still in his teens he brought warring factions together and welded the united Sikhs into a powerful force. He was proclaimed Maharajah in 1801 and his army forced the Afghans from the Punjab and quelled the Pashtuns.
Multan, Jammu and Kashmir were taken and the Sikh empire by 1825 stretched in a broadening triangle from the plains of Sind at its apex to the Khyber pass in the north and the foothills of the Himalayas in the north-east. Its long, southern flank on the Sutlej river faced British India with whom, in 1809, Ranjit had signed a treaty of perpetual friendship.
The instrument of conquest was the Khalsa, the Sikh army, formidably equipped with firearms and artillery. Perhaps its most effective weapons were officers and advisers from Europe and America – and generals drawn from Napoleon’s defeated army, who were given mansions and estates, as well as slaves to tend them.
The afterglow of Ranjit’s golden reign took a long time to fade. European artists and sculptors continued to make images of him and the Lahore court. And the bust sold by Bonhams, which was not carved during his lifetime, showed what a potent image the face of Ranjit remained. The exiled Duleep attracted European painters and sculptors such as Winterhalter, Gibson and Marovhjeeti.
Ranjit Singh’s reign was renowned for its patronage of the arts and sciences. His most lasting legacy was the enrichment with gold and marble of the Sikh temple at Amritsar, hence its name, the Golden Temple.
The ruler enjoyed the absolute loyalty of his immediate family – evident when four wives and five slave girls chose at his funeral to burn with him in the act of sati.
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