The Harminder Sahib, in the north western Indian city of Amritsar, is one of the world's holiest shrines, revered by millions of Sikhs. It is in the heart of the Darbar Sahib, the temple complex more commonly known as the Golden Temple, and is the spiritual and cultural centre of the Sikh religion. Built by Guru Arjan, the 5th Sikh Guru, it houses the Sikhs' holiest book the Guru Granth. This painting depicts the temple reflected in a tank of water known as the 'pool of nectar.' A number of worshippers can be seen at one of the entrances to the temple, including an Akali with his distinctive headgear.
Kapur Singh, commonly referred to as 'Kapur Singh of Amritsar', is arguably the most famous Sikh artist of the 19th century. He worked almost entirely in watercolour concentrating on Company paintings depicting general life in the Punjab. However, he is the only known late 19th century Sikh artist to make the transition to oil painting in the western style with such accomplishment. Descended from a long line of Sikh painters (he is in fact the nephew of Bishan Singh, the artist responsible for lot 245), his father, Kishan Singh was also a highly regarded Punjabi artist. Members of the family were in fact responsible for the murals and floral motifs on the walls inside the Golden Temple.
In many ways Kapur Singh took the challenge of meeting western art modes on his own terms. Some of his studies were inscribed in English, and others are depicted realistically but also clearly by an artist trained in the Mughal tradition with the miniaturist's attention to minute detail. W.G. Archer mentions Kapur Singh being noted by Percy Brown as 'painting a large number of figure subjects, miniature in size and showing a fair knowledge of drawing with considerable action' (Brown, Indian Painting, Calcutta 1917, p. 62, quoted in Susan Strong (ed.), The Arts of the Sikh Kingdoms, London 1999, pp. 174-75).
Whilst there are at least two other known signed 19th century oil paintings of the Golden Temple (one by August Schoefft in the Princess Bamba Collection at the Lahore Fort Museum, and the other by Edwin Lord Weeks in the Annmary Brown Memorial, Brown University), no other oil painting by a named 19th century Sikh artist is known.
Other works by Kapur Singh can be found in major institutions around the world including the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Lahore Museum, and the Government Museum and Art Gallery, Chandigarh as well as private collections around the world.