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NLI loans portrait to The Wallace Collection's Ranjit Singh exhibition

The Wallace Collection has launched 'Ranjit Singh: Sikh, Warrior, King', a major new exhibition

Wednesday, 10 April 2024
Illustration of Ranjit Singh

Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1799–1839) with his favourite, Raja Hira Singh (1816–1844), attending as a cup-bearer, c. 1835–1838 © Toor Collection

The Wallace Collection has launched 'Ranjit Singh: Sikh, Warrior, King', a new major exhibition for summer 2024 which includes a portrait of Raja Lal Singh loaned from the NLI's collection.

The exhibition explores the rise and reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Singh would emerge as the Punjab’s undisputed ‘Maharaja’ or Great King at the beginning of the 19th century. His meteoric rise to power brought about a short-lived but hugely influential Sikh Empire that would inextricably impact on the fortunes of the British Empire in the Indian subcontinent.

The charismatic personality of Singh and his influential reign is explored through Sikh works of art including arms and armour, textiles, jewellery, watercolours as well as works by Western artists working in Singh’s court.

 Ranjit Singh: Sikh, Warrior, King includes loans from major UK and international lenders including the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Royal Collection Trust, the British Library, the Musée du Louvre, and the National Library of Ireland, amongst others.

Portrait painting of Raja Lal Singh

Watercolour painting of Raja Lal Singh

The National Library of Ireland has loaned a portrait of Raja Lal Singh, the charismatic chief minister, providing a key image of a Sikh warrior wearing European armour. An essential theme of the exhibition is the diverse nature of Ranjit Singh’s court, a thread of which is his incorporation of European arms, armour, tactics as well as advisors and artists.

This beautiful watercolour provides an essential visual image for the exhibition which features a large number of three-dimensional objects, including armour. Additionally, Raja Lal Singh’s own story serves as an important part of the narrative of this largely biographical exhibition on Ranjit Singh.

This item is part of the Gough family Papers which were donated to the NLI in 1983 by Catherine Kennedy née Gregory, daughter of Margaret Gregory née Parry and Robert William Gregory. After Robert Gregory’s death, her mother married Guy Vincent Hugh Gough who was the great-grandson of Field Marshal Hugh Gough, 1st Viscount Gough of Goojeret. The Gough family papers came into the possession of Catherine Kennedy when her stepfather died in 1959. He had no biological children.

Raja Lal Singh led the Sikh forces against the British army during the First Anglo-Sikh War (1845-46) and was defeated at the Battle of Sobraon on the 10th February 1846. The British army was commanded by Sir Hugh Gough, the Commander in Chief of the Bengal Army. It is not known how he acquired the portrait.

This painting is part of a series of portraits in the exhibition that include several notable members of the Sikh court who had survived the outfall of the conflict. It perfectly incapsulates the intrigues and artistic patronage that took place during Sikh rule in a tumultuous period.

Learn more on The Wallace Collection's website.