The small child shown playing with a bird on the balcony has been assumed at first glance by some to be a picture of Duleep Singh, the last claimant to the Lahore throne but evidence suggests otherwise. Chronologically Duleep Singh was only 9 months old at the time of Maharaja Ranjit Singh death; the child shown in the painting is considerably older.
Maharaja Ranjit Singhs only biological offspring, officially recognized by him as his son was Raja Kharak Singh. Maharaja Sher Singh who occupied the throne during Schoefft's visit was a step-son who had succeeded to the throne after a power struggle in which Kharak Singhs widow Rani Chand Kaur was defeated in battle. During Maharaja Sher Singh’s rule when Schoefft observed the Royal Court and made his studies concerning the various figures that he would later paint into the scene at Darbar Sahib, there is no mention of Duleep Singh at the court or recognition of him as a legitimate son of Ranjit Singh.
It was only following Maharaja Sher Singhs death that a number of factions put forward their own claimants of various alleged sons of Ranjit Singh as successors to the Lahore throne. During this tumultuous time we first see the rise to prominence of Duleep Singh who was promoted as a son of Ranjit Singh by a faction led by the Dogra brothers Dhian Singh and Gulab Singh. By this time Schoefft had already left the Sikh Empire.
Historian F.S. Aijazuddin identifies the child as the son of one of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Sardars who had fallen in battle. A number of eyewitness accounts mention such children as being present at Ranjit Singh’s Court and this practice may likely have continued during Maharaja Sher Singhs rule and been observed by Schoefft during his time in the Sikh Empire.
On ordinary days his son, his prime-minister, and one or two others, form, with servants, his party. Three or four children, generally sons of his old servants, who have been killed in his service, scramble about the carpet with the tame pigeons.
Five Years in India, Volume 1
Henry Edward Fane, London, 1842
There were a little boy and girl about four and five years old, children of some of Runjeet’s sirdars who were killed in battle, and he always has these children with him, and has married them to each other. They were crawling about the floor, and running in and out between Runjeet and George, and at one time the little boy had got his arm twisted around George’s leg.
Up the Country, Volume I
Emily Eden, London, 1866
The Maharajah is fond of children; and many of his sirdars’ sons are bred up under his eye, and instructed in riding, and the use of arms; by this means they become attached to him, and when able to assume commands, they never fail of succeeding to important ones.
The History of the Sikhs
W.L. M’Gregor M.D., London, 1846
1. Sikh Portraits by European Artists
F.S. Aijazuddin, Oxford University Press, 1979, pg. 32