Raja Sujan Singh of Bikaner smoking a hookah

Artist: Ustad Ahmad (active early 18th century)
Historical period(s)
ca. 1715-1720
Bikaner school
Opaque watercolor and gold on paper
H x W (painting): 18.5 × 11.5 cm (7 5/16 × 4 1/2 in) H x W (overall): 31.2 × 21 cm (12 5/16 × 8 1/4 in)
India, Rajasthan state, Bikaner
Credit Line
Purchase and partial gift from the Catherine and Ralph Benkaim Collection — funds provided by the Friends of the Freer and Sackler Galleries
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view


attendant, India, landscape, portrait, raja, Ralph and Catherine Benkaim collection, smoking

From ca. 1715 to 1964
Personal collection of the Maharaja of Bikaner

From ? to 2003
Francesca Galloway, London [1]

From 2003 to 2018
Catherine Glynn Benkaim, Beverly Hills, California, purchased from Francesca Galloway, London in 2003

From 2018
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, partial gift and purchase from Catherine Glynn Benkaim


[1] We were unable to trace the painting between 1964, when it certainly was in Bikaner, and 2003, when it certainly was in London.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Francesca Galloway
Maharaja of Bikaner Bikaner, Rajasthan state, India
Catherine Glynn Benkaim


Verso: in Nagari: samvat 1803 miti bhadva(n) sudi 5 s(h)abi maharaja sujan singhji ri kam uste ahmad s(h)ha muhamad ro
Samvat 1803 bright half of the month of Bhadon, 5th day, likeness of Maharaja Sujan Singh. Work of the Master (Ustad) Ahmad, (son of) Shah Mahmud
Inspection date: Sunday 10th August 1746


Verso: Purple stamp of the personal collection of the Maharaja of Bikaner 1963, [dated notation entered by hand on] 17.8.64; inventory no. 5317
Khet Singh

245 in Green ink and BKNIR 35-1655 in red pencil


Raja Sujan Singh of Bikaner (born 1690, reigned 1700 -- 1735) enjoys a hookah from a terrace that overlooks a flowering garden and a misty landscape. The painterly sky, with swathes of gold wash near the trees and dilute washes in the sky, skillfully evokes hazy light. The painting's palette, its atmospheric landscape, and the distant white city on the hill point to the role that Deccani painting played in transforming Bikaner painting from a brightly-colored provincial idiom to a highly refined aesthetic in the late seventeenth century. 

The painting's pastel tones of lavender, pink, and salmon, its soft greens and diffused mauves, and the distant white city on the hill can be most directly traced to painting from the Deccani court of Bijapur.[1]  Although Bikaner rulers had long ties to the Deccan, having served there as Mughal generals from the 1570s, Sujan Singh's father, Maharaja Anup Singh (r. 1674-98), became the governor of Bijapur following Emperor Aurangzeb's conquest of the kingdom.  That close contact with Bijapur becomes visible in the folios of a magnificent Bhagavata Purana that Anup Singh commissioned.[2] The Sackler's superb folio from Anup Singh's Bhagavata Purana (c.1690-1700, S2018.1.46) demonstrates the synthesis of styles achieved by Bikaner paintings at the end of the seventeenth century, as well as the emotional depths that they instilled in landscapes bathed in golden light. Sujan Singh's portrait extends the synthesis of his father's sacred narrative into the genre of royal portraiture.

Collection Area(s)
South Asian and Himalayan Art
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