Company painting in the Punjab developed far later than in other parts of India as the British did not take over its administration until 1849, after the Sikh wars, and few visitors commissioned the local artists. It is therefore very unusual to see watercolours that can be dated as early this. The present watercolour, and that in lot 292, must be some of the first attempts by Sikh artists to record the Sikh leaders in the company style rather than as traditional miniatures.
The earliest known album of this type is in the India Office Library (Add.Or. 1347-96), dated by Mildred Archer to 1838-9. Another slightly later album (Add. Or. 1397-1451) contains portraits of Sham Singh and Hari Singh (see lot 292). (See M. Archer, Company Drawings, London, 1972, India Office Library, Add. Or. 1400, 1403.) The style of the present watercolour (and lot 292), and the relatively old age of the sitters suggests that the watercolours may have been executed when the sitters were still alive. The present watercolour is of remarkably high quality compared to the majority of similar company school portraits that were executed posthumously from existing miniatures.
Sirdar, or Commander Sham Singh Atariwala was reknowned for his conspicuous and full white beard. He was considered a model soldier and died in the battle of Sobraon in February 1846.