A PORTRAIT OF KASHMIR DARNERS
A PORTRAIT OF KASHMIR DARNERS
A PORTRAIT OF KASHMIR DARNERS
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A PORTRAIT OF KASHMIR DARNERS

INDIA, PUNJAB, PROBABLY AMRITSAR, ATTRIBUTED TO BISHAN SINGH, CIRCA 1870

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A PORTRAIT OF KASHMIR DARNERS
INDIA, PUNJAB, PROBABLY AMRITSAR, ATTRIBUTED TO BISHAN SINGH, CIRCA 1870
image 8 ½ x 6 1/8 (21.6 x 15.5 cm.)
folio 9 ¾ x 8 1/8 (24.8 x 20.6 cm.)

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Hannah Perry
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Lot Essay

Bishan Singh came from a family of artists operating in Lahore and Amritsar in the second half of the 19th century. The family were responsible for painting and maintaining the murals and motifs on the walls of the Sikh holiest shrine, the Golden Temple and it is there that Bishan (and his brother Kishan Singh) learnt his trade. Bishan Singh became particularly famous for his detailed depictions of the Court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839). Bishan Singh’s repertoire embodies more than mastery; his work traces a pivotal point in Pahari painting as Singh “was the first to imbibe the western ideas of painting [and] was followed by a host of painters” (K.S. Kang “Art and Architecture of Panjab,” in History and Culture of Panjab, ed. Mohinder Singh, Delhi, 1988, 276). Bishan Singh’s epic works seamlessly fused two otherwise contrasting styles, producing work that responded to the phenomenon of the rise of Company painting and English talent in the Kashmiri region (R. Crill “Textiles in the Punjab,” in The Arts of the Sikh Kingdoms, ed. Susan Stronge, London, 2001, 112).
Our painting demonstrates many of the hallmarks of Bishan Singh’s work. The portrait of each craftsman is carefully executed and the embroidery in the shawl shown in typically meticulous detail. The artist used a restrained approach in the application of color, allowing the vivid greens, deep lapis blues, and vibrant oranges to present the textiles. At the exhibition of arts and crafts held at Lahore in 1864, Bishan Singh showed ten pictures including durbars of Ranjit Singh and Sher Singh, as well as group of paintings on the production of Kashmir shawls. Baden-Powell and Percy Brown commented that Bishan Singh’s works were the ‘most clever and truthful paintings’ in the exhibition, the artist being awarded top merits amongst the paintings submitted to jury; “the colour is tasteful and rich and likenesses are good and the expression is varied and truthful” (B.H. Baden-Powell, Handbook of the Manufactures and Arts of the Punjab, Lahore 1872, pp. 354-55).
Kashmir shawls are woven from fine shahtoosh wool obtained from the Tibetan antelope or pashmina from the cashmere goat. The shawls are valued for its light weight, yet warm design and trademark buta weave. Originally a covering for high class men in India, the shawls became highly prized among men and women in Europe by the mid-18th century, becoming an important export for Kashmir, and subsequently Punjab after Maharaja Gulab Singh (r. 1846-1857) took control of Kashmir in 1846 and allowed weavers to relocate and settle across Punjab. Amritsar soon became the most important center for shawl production and trade. Due to the cultural and economic importance in Amritsar, shawl production became a popular subject in paintings of the later half of the 19th century. As mentioned, Bishan Singh had exhibited a number of paintings on the subject for the 1864 exhibition of arts and craft in Lahore. Another 1867 exhibition in Paris featured a set of eight paintings by Punjabi artists documenting shawl production from designing, weaving, felting and cleaning (London, Kyburg limited, Kashmir Shawls: Woven Art & Cultural Document/A unique collection of Indian drawings illustrating the production of Kashmir shawls, commissioned for the 1867 Paris Exposition, 7 June - 24 June 1988, exhibition catalogue). Works from this series have since been attributed to Bishan Singh.
A painting by Bishan Singh of a Kashmir shawl weaving workshop can be found in the Musée Guimet, Paris (acc. no.MA 12702), and another of weavers washing shawls on river bank is in the Toor Collection. A closely related painting, Darners at Work, is in the collection of the Louvre Abu Dhabi (acc. no. LAD 2011.117), which features a similarly naturalist group of weaves working on an alike jewel toned green shawl. Two large format paintings by Bishan Singh, depicting the court of Ranjit Singh and the Amritsar Municipal Committee, sold recently at Christie’s London, 31 March 2022, lots 97 and 98 for GBP 441,000 and 403,200.

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