Portrait of Duleep Singh

Duleep Singh

George Beechey (1798-1852) (Article in the Sale Catalogue by Sotheby)

Half length, seated wearing a green tunic with a red cloak and a turban decorated with jewels , strings of pearls with a miniature of Queen Victoria around his neck Oil on canvas, in a carved wood frame Approx. 36 by 29in.:91.5by 74cm.

The sitter was the son of the great Sikh warrior Ranjit Singh, ”Lion of the Punjab”. And Jindan Kour, daughter of one of the f Maharajah’s palace doorkeeper .His father died in 1839 when he was a baby, leaving an unstable state. By the time young Duleep Singh was proclaimed Maharajah of Lahore in 1843 most of his relatives had died or murdered. Various abortive incursions and uprisings followed,. Leading eventually to the annexation of the Punjab in 1849, by Lord Dalhousie, the Governor General of India. Duleep Singh was deposed and surrendered all his property, including the famous Koh-I noor diamond, in return for pension. His Education was put in charge of a Scottish doctor , Dr John Login,and he continued to live in considerable state – he was often seen on his elephant with its silver howdah or in a coach drawn by four grey arabs and driven by Thornton his English coachman. He was an intelligent child, adept as a flautist and keen on hawking.

In 1850 he made the momentous decision to become a Christian and was final baptized in 1853. He also conceived passion to visit England, and despite his mother’s attempt to dissuade him, he finally arrived there in the summer of 1854. He was introduced to Queen Victoria on whom he at once made a great impression. ‘He is extremely handsome and speaks English perfectly, and has a pretty, graceful and dignified manner’. He was beautifully dressed and covered with diamonds ‘The Queen made a number of sketches of him and decided that he should be painted by her favorite painter, Winterhalter.He stayed at Osborne and also visited Scotland where he stayed with Lord Dalhousie’s daughter s in Dalhousie Castle and took a lease of Mulgrave Castle near Whitby from the Marquess of Normandy. His great passion of shooting led to the purchase of Elveden in Suffolk , a house originally owned by the Earle of Albermarle, with tis 1700 acres estate situate amongst some of England’s greatest sporting estates. He commissioned John Norton to rebuild the house lavishly in the Italian renaissance style. He was an accomplished shot and presided over notable shooting parties there. In 1864 he married Bamba Muller, daughter of an Abyssinian lady and a German banker and their first son, born in 1866, became Queen Victoria’s godson.

His enthusiasm for the life of English aristocracy soon led him into debt and by 1881 he was compelled to shut up Elveden and move to London. With increasing financial problems and refusal of the Government to bail him out, he turned his attention to his dispossessed Punjab estates. He wrote the Times setting out his grievances and threatened to return to India and to the Sikh religion. The government and the Queen became alarmed at his threats and when he finally set off for India in 1886 he was arrested in Aden and forbidden to travel further. In Aden he once again embraced the Sikh religion and travelled to France, where he railed against’ the most tyrannical government in the world and prepared various proclamations to the Sikhs in India, calling himself the Guru and Sovereign of the Sikh nation. He also tried to gain the support of Russia and travelled to Moscow. However he failed to obtain the support in India which he needed, and on his return to Paris in 1888 became disillusioned. He suffered a stroke in 1890 and was finally reconciled with Queen Victoria whom he met in Aix la Chapelle. He died in England and was buried at Elveden. He had three sons and three daughters by his first marriage and two daughters from his second marriage to Ada Weatherehill.

The portrait was commissioned by Lord Dalhousie in 1851.Dalhousie had become attached to the young prince whom he regarded as a son and it is clear from his correspondence that he was delighted with the picture ,considering it superior to the portrait by Winterhalter. He wrote to George Beechey on September 9th ,1854: ’I am rejoiced at at Duleep’s success and favour at Court. Winterhalter may have arranged Duleep’s drapery better than his valet, but has he preserved him a Sikh in outward form ….?’ Duleep Singh is shown wearing the miniature of Queen Victoria giver to his father, Ranjit Singh.

Provenance :
Commissioned by the Marquess of Dalhousie

The Private letters of the Marquess of Dalhousie, edited by JGA Baird,1910,p320,ilus;
M Alexander and S Anand , Queen Victoria’s Maharajah,1980,p32,ilusplate 6