Royal gems sparkle at Indian art auction

SALE SUCCESS: Maharani Jind Kaur’s earrings
SALE SUCCESS: Maharani Jind Kaur’s earrings

A PAIR of gold pendant earrings worn by the last Sikh queen of Punjab, Maharani Jind Kaur, fetched £175,000, nearly six times its guide price, at an auction last week.

The earrings came from the collection of the youngest wife of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the only spouse of the Sikh ruler not to commit sati on his funeral pyre following his death in 1839.

She went on to be appointed as the de facto ruler of Punjab before being captured by the British. It was only many years later that her jewellery, including the earrings, were returned to her.

“The impressive price paid for these beautiful pieces of jewellery conveys their significance,” said Oliver White, head of Islamic and Indian Art at Bonhams.

“These gold earrings are a powerful reminder of a courageous woman who endured the loss of her kingdom, and persecution and privation, with great dignity and fortitude,” he noted.

When Kaur’s five-year-old son Duleep Singh was proclaimed Maharaja of Punjab in 1843, she was appointed regent. However, the East India Company invaded and annexed Punjab, despite armed opposition led by Kaur. She was deposed in 1846, separated from her son and imprisoned.

According to Bonhams’ histori­ans, her personal wealth was con­fiscated and the state treasury plundered by the British Army. The Kohinoor diamond and the Timur ruby were sent to London as gifts for Queen Victoria.

Kaur and Singh were reunited after 13 years in 1861, when she moved to England to be with her son. She died in 1863.

The earrings, the highlight of the Islamic and Indian sale at Bonhams last Tuesday (24), were estimated to attract bids between £20,000 and £30,000.

Other highlights at the auction included a painting by Gujarati artist Ghulam Mohammed Sheikh. The piece, inscribed on the back with the artist’s name, sold for £40,000, within its guide price estimate.

Another Indian painting, circa 1820-30, Shiva and Parvati with Ganesh, Karttikeya and Nandi on Mount Kailasa went under the hammer for £16,250, beyond the estimated £8,000-£12,000.

A Mother and Child portrait by Jamini Roy from 1950 fetched £11,875, also beating the guide price estimate of £6,000-£8,000.