PAINTERSAbout four decades ago, Dr. Mulk Raj Anand had written an article entitled "Painting under the Sikhs". This title gives one an impression that the Sikhs were great patrons of painting in the 19th century. Actually the art of painting came to flourish for a little while during the peaceful reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh who was not a great connoi-sseur but was liberal-minded and fully recognised the importance of fine arts. So he patronised a number of painters, both Indian and European. He invited traditionalist painters from Kangra and Delhi and urged them to settle down in Lahore and Amritsar. Among these, the best known was Parkhu. The noblemen, rich merchants and Mah-ants (religious heads) also commissioned these painters to decorate the walls of their mansions or Havelis, temples, Samadhis, Akharas and wells with paintings. These wall paintings are mostly in Kangra style and the themes are from the Ramayana, Mahabharata, and legends of Krishna, Shiva and Vishnu. Simultaneously, paintings in the same style and the same themes were executed on paper. In the course of time, the Kangra style underwent a lot of change which was effected by changed environment, by the local painters who had earlier worked as disciples or apprentices of Kangra painters of some European painters in the court of Ranjit Singh. While earlier paintings executed in impeccable Kangra style are superb in every respect, the later works suffer badly from a number of faults. There was gradual degeneration in style and finally it became transformed into what may be termed the "bazar school" of painting. The art of painting went through a number of experimental stages in the short span of 50 years. Naturally, during this brief period, no new school could be created which would have left a strong impression on the history of painting in the Punjab. No doubt, a few geniuses like Parkhu appeared on the horizon, but they were isolated individuals and their works failed to make an indelible mark.
|Apart from this, a notable feature of painting during this period wes portraiture, which appealed to the Sikhs the most. Why it was so has been admirably summed up by W.G. Archer in his book "Paintings of the Sikhs":|
|"The Sikhs had no traditional mythology or imagery and, as their history shows, they also had no feudal system. Their history is, in essence, a struggle for two kinds of freedom-spiritual and political.The first was achieved through the teaching of their ten leaders or Gurus. The second was won by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Sikh portraiture developed from this struggle and it is only by realising the roles which certain individuals played that we can understand their place in paint-ing."|
|Punjab was the only province whose people imbibed European influ-ence in so short a period. It was the only province whose artists adapted themselves so quickly and assiduously to the changing atmosphere and in such a brief period could produce in western style works which can stand good comparison with the works of any European painter.|
|In the first three ot tour decades of the twentieth century, international modern trends were gradualJy becoming more and more accepted. At the time when Amrita Sher-Gil was enjoying immense popularity all over India, there were some very promising artists in Lahore and Amritsar such as Ustad Malla Ram, M.A. Aziz, Sri Ram, Brij Lall, A.R. Chugtai, Thakur Singh, Goverdhan Dass Swami, M. Allah Bux, Sobha Singh, Ram Lall, Pt. Srinivas, R.L. Malhotra, S.L. Prasher, Kanwal Krishna, Roop Krishna, Marry Roop Krishna, D.R. Bhagat, K.C. Aryan (the author of the present book), P.N. Mago, Harkishan Lall, Satish Gujral, Damyanti Chawla, Jaswant Singh, Dwarka Dhish Mehar, who were later to break new grounds and make an important contribution to modern art in India.|
|Since then these artists have been experimenting successfully with new possibilities and trying to express new aesthetics through different media. The period of the preceding one hundred and fifty years held the promise of a brilliant and progressive future. The modern Punjabi painters owe part of their success to their predecessors who paved the way for them. Nobody can deny that the Punjabi painters' contribution to modern art in India is sizable.|
|Despite the facts that these eminent personalities have richly contri-buted to the stream of culture of our country, Punjab is regarded as a state having "no culture".|
Sources: Cultural Heritage of Punjab, K C Aryan