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Bust Of Ranjit Singh To Sell At Bonhams

A stunning milk white marble bust of Ranjit Singh sculpted in India around 1900 is to sell for £50,000 to £70,000 at Bonhams next Indian and Islamic Sale on 6 October.

ranjit-singh.jpgThis great Emperor of the Sikhs built an empire which stretched almost from the Indian Ocean to the Himalayas. His court was famed for its love of the arts and sciences and was extremely sophisticated and tolerant. He is revered by Sikhs as the last effective ruler of an independent state in the Punjab in north-west India, their homeland.

Among the many treasures owned by Ranjit Singh was the almost priceless Koh-i-Noor diamond. Within ten years of his death the empire he had built was in the hands of the East India Company, with a British Governor General, and the Koh-i-Noor diamond had become the property of Queen Victoria.

This great 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. His most lasting legacy was the enrichment with gold and marble of the Sikh temple at Amritsar, hence its name, the Golden Temple.

Clare Penhallurick, Head of Indian and Islamic Art at Bonhams, comments: “Bonhams is delighted to offer this magnificent sculpture for sale, particularly as last year we sold a bust of Ranjit Singh’s son, Duleep Singh, for £1.7m.”

Starting as a teenage warrior Ranjit Singh corralled the warring factions into an homogenous kingdom. He was proclaimed Maharajah in 1801, and under his command the united Sikhs proved formidable in battle. Amritsar was taken, the Afghans were expelled from the Punjab and the Pashtuns conquered. Multan, Jammu and Kashmir were taken – 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 the officers and advisers from Europe and America – and the generals drawn from Napoleon’s defeated Grande Armée (they 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 on offer at Bonhams, which was not carved during his lifetime, shows what a potent image the face of Ranjit remained. The exiled Duleep attracted European painters and sculptors such as Winterhalter, Gibson and Marovhjeeti.

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