Private Collection, USA
Inscribed in nagari on the verso: maharajadhiraja shri Sher Singh ji ki tasbir ko pano o 1912 ka posa sud 14 bhaumai goro kacan sumer ye asvar huva thaka ki along with royal Mewar inventory numbers (‘portrait of Maharaja Sher Singh inventoried on Thursday the 14th day of the bright half of the month Pausha in Samvat 1912/AD1855-56, riding the horse Kacansumer adorned with a gold garland').
The Maharaja here is not of course of the ruling family of Mewar which in 1855-56 was Maharana Sarup Singh (r. 1842-61), but would be the ruler of one of the thikanas or feudatory states of Mewar. Many such rulers appear in the great paintings of court activity from the 19th century in the Udaipur palace collection with inscriptions naming those present. Topsfield records two rulers named Sher Singh in paintings dated 1851: (Kaka) Sher Singh of Bagor and Sher Singh of Diwala (1990, nos. 29 and 32). Sher Singh of Bagor is called kaka (any senior male relative), since he was the elder brother of Maharana Svarup Singh, who had been adopted into the Mewar royal house from the thikana of Bagor. This royal connection makes him the more likely candidate for a portrait from the royal studio.
This type of portrait with the rider on horseback with attendants with royal insignia, armed guards and the like set against a plain green ground and distant dimpled hills had been formalized by the artist Tara around 1840-50 (Topsfield 1980, nos. 266-68). Here, Sher Singh is preceded by two chobdars (silver-stick bearers) and two men bearing decorated palm or plantain leaves, while there follow two attendants with different kinds of parasols, a spear carrier and a hookah-bearer for the maharaja’s hookah which he is smoking while riding. Four armed retainers of the sort seen in the contemporary paintings of scenes of royal activities guard the little procession (e.g. Topsfield 1990, nos. 29-30; Topsfield 2002, fig. 234). They are all chatting among themselves, somewhat distracting from the dignity of the occasion if indeed it is meant to be a dignified procession. Strangely, all including Sher Singh wearing a more old-fashioned type of turban than that normally worn in the reign of Sarup Singh, one with a crescent-shaped cockade at the back which the Maharana himself invented.
Topsfield, A., Paintings from Rajasthan in the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1980
Topsfield, A., The City Palace Museum, Udaipur – Paintings of Mewar Court Life, Mapin, Ahmedabad, 1990
Topsfield, A., Court Painting at Udaipur: Art under the Patronage of the Maharanas of Mewar, Artibus Asiae, Zurich, 2002
EXPERT : J. P. Losty
J. P. Losty was for many years curator of Indian visual materials in the British Library in London and has published many books and articles on painting in India from the 12th to the 19th centuries.
Artiana would like to thank J. P. Losty for his expertise and assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.