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Place of Origin: North India, Probably Punjab

Date: 19th Century

Overall: 204mm x 137mm

Reference: 509

Status: Available

Full Description:

This attractive Portrait of a Sikh Holding his Bow comes from the Punjab in the foothills of the Himalayas. The figure is seated in profile to the right on a blue and white striped rug and holding his bow and arrow in a deliberate gesture facing upwards- it was a format that became popular in this period. His profile shows a strong nose and weak chin compensated by his thick black beard that juts forward. The most striking feature of his appearance is the blue colour of his skin, associating his identity with concepts of the divine heroic, since important Vaishnavite Hindu deities, notably Ram and Krishna, are represented with blue skin (while Sikhism does not worship these deities, they are reverenced). Our bowman wears a draped pink turban and a white jama whose careful lines of stitching belie its apparent simplicity. A cotton cummerbund is knotted at the waist with borders that match his pink turban. His chaddar (shawl), meanwhile, has a checked pattern in an acidy green and red that hangs loosely over both shoulders. Around his neck he wears several necklaces including one with multiple pendants. On his left hip sits a sword, which would be secured to his body with a belt, but is only partially visible. He holds a recurved bow tucked under his right arm, whose string echoes the line of his thigh as if an extension of his very person. He holds a single arrow very precisely between his thumb and index finger pointing upwards. It is a gesture that seems to mean something beyond itself – perhaps it relates in some way to his sense of purpose and destiny. 

A closely related painting identified as the Sikh Chief Bhag Singh Alhuwalia ca. 17851 is kept in the Government Museum and Art Gallery in Chandigarh, where it is attributed to the family workshop of Purkhu of Kangra. Sardar Bhag Singh Ahluwalia was heir of Jassa Singh Ahluwalia of Karputhala in the Punjab. The Ahluwalia’s had gained control of the region in 1772. Both the sitter in our painting and the figure in the Chandigarh painting sit on identical carpets with vertical blue stripes and wear similar clothing. Both also hold bows and arrows in the same position, albeit in different hands and they face in reverse directions. But they are clearly not the same person, even allowing for the process of copying. A further significant difference is that our subject sits in the bir-asan (warrior pose) with one knee up, rather than with both knees tucked under. This presumably is a recognition of his martial prowess. The portrait brings alive a character from the world of the Sikh courts with perceptive observation and close attention to the details of the fabrics and accessories they wear.


UK art market


1Goswamy, Smith, I See No Stranger: Early Sikh Art and Devotion, 2006, p.174-175,


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