Sikh Paintings found its first patron in Maharaja Ranjit Singh , who was a liberal art lover. He commissioned painters to decorate the walls and the panels of the exquisite Golden Temple, thus began the story of Sikh Paintings.
Sikh Paintings primarily deals with portraits. They depicts historical characters and events. They attempt to give us a comprehensive understanding of the political struggle that gave birth to Sikhism and the distinct roles played by certain individuals in that struggle. Sikh Paintings can be broadly categorized into three different schools- Guler School , Kangra School and Lahore School.
In the middle of the eighteenth century, some Hindu painters sought the patronage of the Rajas of Guler in Kangra valley. These painters were trained in the Mughal style. Slowly they developed a style of painting, which was a beautiful synthesis of both these culture. They were known as the Guler Painters. The Guler Painters have the faculty to create a dawn and dusk on the same canvas.
Guler painters, who had earlier dealt with only on Rajput (link to miniatures main page) themes, now began to experiment with Sikh themes like the portraits of Sikh Gurus and Sikh dignitaries .
The religious sect of Vaishnavism and the kind patronage of ruler Sansar Chand inspired an art form, which delights us with its unpretentious elegance. Kangra Paintings are well known for the delicacy of the lines and the subtlety of colors. Initially these paintings abounded with the spirituality of Vaishnavism
However when Kangra came under the control of Raja Sher Singh , son of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, these painters quickly adapted their paintings to suit the Sikh sentiments. They portrayed Sikhs as aristocrats and lovers.
When Ranjit Singh became the ruler of Lahore in 1799, he was very particular about maintaining a royal atelier, and Pahari artists were the jewels of the atelier. The Pahari painters who specialized in water color miniatures, recorded the dignified courtiers at the court, the Maharaja's riding scene, Sikh sardars, scenes of meeting foreign ministers, scenes of fighting with lion-especially of Hari Singh Nalwa killing a lion. Thus a new school of painting was born, the Lahore School of painting.
Some important painters
Gian Singh whose fresco paintings in the Golden Temple is still regarded as one of the most spectacular specimens of Sikh Painting, is definitely an artist without whom no listing of Sikh Painter would be complete. He specialized in a technique called Mohra Qashi. Flora and fauna gain prominence in his paintings.
Pandit Bihari from the court of Ranjit Singh was a great presenter of scenes of chivalry; his depiction of Hari Singh Nalwa killing a lion is one of the most popular Sikh Paintings of all time.
Contemporary painters like S.G. Thakur Singh, Sobha Singh and S. Kripal Singh are quite famous. S. Kripal Singh has dealt with controversial themes like persecution of the Sikhs by the Mughal rulers, quite beautifully and with a great deal of sensitivity.
The tranquil face of Guru Gobind Singh when juxtaposed with a scene of ferocious battle shows the vast range of Sikh Paintings. Winding floral patterns on the walls of the Golden temple shows the artistic merit of them and mixture of styles shows the colorful history of Sikh Paintings. Indeed Sikh Paintings have the color, range, history and artistic merit to rival any other art form of the world.