Life-sized portraits of historic Punjab kings on temporary display in the ROM’s Ondaatje South Asian Gallery

The Sir Christopher Ondaatje South Asian Gallery at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) plays host to a special temporary display of two life-size portraits of historical kings of the state of Punjab in north-western India. From Saturday, November 28, 2009 to Sunday, March 28, 2010, the oil-on-canvas paintings by established portrait artist Manu Kaur Saluja will be showcased in the “Home & the World” section of the Ondaatje Gallery, located on Level 3 of the ROM’s Michael Lee-Chin Crystal.

The two portraits are significant for both their quality and for being contemporary imaginings of significant historical figures. One, depicting Maharaja Duleep Singh (1838 -1893), is a copy of a celebrated painting housed in the Royal Collection of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Artist Saluja was accorded special access to produce her 2005 painting, currently in a private Ontario collection. The other painting, completed in summer 2009, is an original composition still in the artist’s collection. Depicting the most famous of Punjab kings, Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780 -1839), Saluja’s work is unlike most historical portraits that depict the king as an old man. The artist’s re-imagining portrays him as a young man full of the strength and power that led to his nickname “The Lion of Punjab”. To create this work, Saluja was given special access to the original jewellery, armour and throne that once belonged to this king. These possessions are now in various public and private collections throughout the United Kingdom.

Dr. Deepali Dewan, the ROM’s curator of South Asian Art, states, “Manu Kaur Saluja’s portraits are contemporary creations that connect with historical arts in South Asia as much as with works in the modern world. These two painting will be displayed in the ROM’s Ondaatje Gallery alongside artifacts from the Punjab that are in the Museum’s permanent collection, including an important manuscript from Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s court and a model of the Golden Temple, Amritsar. This gives a sense of the historical and cultural context of the courts ruled by the kings depicted in the paintings. For me, the paintings are not only beautiful to look at. They also offer an intervention into colonial narratives about Sikh history.”

The display of these two paintings is a collaboration of the ROM and the Spinning Wheel Film Festival.

About the Artist

Manu Kaur Saluja’s oil portraits hang in prominent institutions and in the homes of influential families throughout North America. Saluja trained with John Frederick Murray at the School of Visual Arts in New York, graduating with honours, and as a registered copyist at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Saluja also graduated magna cum laude from Barnard College with a BA in psychology. She is a 2003 recipient of the Centennial Award for artistic achievement from the Sikh Centennial Foundation of Canada. In 1999 she was a finalist in the nation’s largest portrait competition sponsored by The Artist Magazine. Her paintings have been featured in Nishaan Magazine (IV/2002), House Magazine (Sept/Oct 2001), and the Graphis New Talent Annual (1998). She has presented her work at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. and at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. Manu Kaur Saluja is a member of The Portrait Society of America. She currently resides in New York City. For more information on the artist, visit: http://manusaluja.com

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