Artist August Schoefft's Masterpiece Painting
Maharaja Ranjit Singh listening to the Granth being recited near the Golden Temple, Amritsar.
August Schoefft, ca. 1840's - 1855, Vienna, from a sketch made by Schoefft in Amritsar, 1841. oil on canvas, 143.5 x 109 cm, Princess Bamba Collection
More Than Meets the Eye
The painting by Viennese artist, August Schoefft, of Maharaja Ranjit Singh sitting in devotion on a balcony overlooking the Darbar Sahib complex at Amritsar is both stunning and full of details. Painted over a century and a half ago at the zenith of the Sikh Empire, it is one of the most important paintings from that era.
Spending over a year in the Sikh Empire, Schoefft painted portraits and scenes while gathering the material to later produce his two most well-known works. Epics on a grand scale, but also with meticulous detail, Schoeffts paintings of The Court of Lahore and Maharaja Ranjit Singh at Darbar Sahib are widely admired today as the definitive depictions of the Sikh Royal Court at the height of its power under the Lion of Punjab.
What may surprise many is the fact that Schoefft’s grand painting is a work of historical imagination and artistic license. Having arrived at the Sikh Empire two years after the death of the Emperor of Punjab, Schoefft never had the opportunity to meet Maharaja Ranjit Singh or witness this scene at Darbar Sahib.
Schoefft's painting is analogous to a well written historical novel where the author researches an era to get the details of the times correct and then uses his creative imagination to populate the pages with believable characters in plausible circumstances, all set in historical context. In a similar manner, Schoefft used his vivid imagination to portray a scene that he never saw but one where, as a keen observer, artist and historian, he effectively blends reality with imagination into a cohesive grand epic on canvas that is both believable and realistic in its rendition.