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SOBHA SINGH (1901 - 1986)
Soba Singh
Sobha Singh
Click to enlarge

Sobha Singh was born in 1901 at Sri Hargobindpur in Punjab. His childhood was spent making figures on sand with his finger, sculpting the sandstone with his penknife and sketching the faces of his classmates on their notebooks. In 1919 he joined army as a draughtsman and spent four years in Baghdad where he tried to develop his techniques by studying books on European painting. Essentially a self-taught artist, he relied on observations and experiments to evolve his art.

Guru Nanak Dev
My Meditation on Sat Guru Nanak Dev,
Oil colour on canvas.
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A realistic painter, his paintings were anatomically true and reflected the personality of the subject. The medium of most of his paintings is oil on canvas. Later he replaced it with particle board. He found lumen paper fixed on the hard board as ideal for painting. His works reflect a delicacy of treatment and minuteness of detail.

Kagra Bride
A Kangra Bride,
Oil colour on canvas
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His favourite subjects were the Gurus, avatars, prophets and saints that earned him an epithet of saint-artist. Mystic and religious in beliefs, he strongly felt that only the Gurus could liberate man. His paintings on Guru Nanak which he appropriately calls "Meditations on Guru Nanak" have widely been acclaimed as unique expressions of spiritual and aesthetic values.

Eko Simro Nanaka,
Oil colour on canvas
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Besides his paintings on Guru Nanak, Guru Gobind Singh and Guru Tegh Bahadur, he was drawn to paint romantic tales. His paintings on Sassi and Punnun, Sohni Mahiwal, Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal have brought him instant fame. His portraits on Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri and others adorn many of the public buildings in the country.

On asked why he does not paint poverty and pain, he replied that pain is everywhere for all to see. He only wanted to paint beauty and goodness in life, which were getting rarer day by day. Sobha Singh refused to paint martyrdom of Sikhs in their struggle against Mughals because he felt paintings of war and religious intolerance widen the gulf between men.

Guru Gobind Singh on horseback,
Oil colour on canvas
Click to enlarge

He lived most of his life at Andretta in Himachal Pradesh where he set up his studio and art gallery. He had a strong desire that Sikh school of Fine Art should be set up so that the rich heritage of Indian spirituality and aesthetics is not lost.

As a tribute to the great artist, the Punjab Government acclaimed him as the State Artist in 1974. In 1983, the Government of India conferred upon him Padma Sri award. His paintings have undoubtedly a unique place in the art heritage of India in general and Punjab in particular.

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