S. G. Thakur Singh’s life is not a miracle achieved overnight. We are happy it is so. For he, would not have enriched his native Punjab and India generally, had he not had a long and dreary path to transverse in arriving. He has arrived; but it was after a long and arduous apprenticeship, after many, many years of industry, diligence perseverance. But all this would not have availed him much had he not been born to be an artist.
The village of Verka, four miles from Amritsar, was in 1899 (the year of his birth) a tiny, insignificant village. There were a few houses amidst a large expanse of flat countryside partly cultivated, partly arid, with here and there a mango grove or a towering peepal or banyan tree. In early spring or late autumn sunrise and sunset offered to sight a variety of colors. But a greater play of light and shade possessed the land around the Punjab village in the rainy months from July to September.
The above digression is necessary to understand the indelible impression that it all had on the color perception and aesthetic sensibility of the artist in those early formative years.
The village school could not absorb all his energies. He roamed the fields and watched the cowherds and their flocks, and the maidens draw water from the village well. This is how Verka nurtured the boy who grew to be one of India’s most outstanding painters. But his gifts were then unsuspected. Only the Muslim teacher of the village, Mohammad Alam, knew that he had those gifts. He encouraged him and showed that the simple lines that he drew to suggest a tree or the sky or a maiden could be improved thus. To quote him “I was forced by my guardians to join to Victoria Diamond Hindu Technical Institute, Lahore, to take up an engineering course. I wasted there two years and left it in disgust.” He was not quite eighteen yet. His relations gave up hope but not so to Mohammad Alam! And when young Thakur Singh returned home, he persuaded him to him to join in an adventure. Mohammed Alam had secured a job as a scene-painter in Bombay theatre. There the village lad worked both at odd jobs in the studio and on his own, Alam guiding him.
“One fine morning”, recalls the seventy four years old artist. “I was busy with doing a landscape at Chowpati Sea Beach when a couple suddenly stopped beside me and began admiring my painting which was, by that time, almost complete. The gentlemen, an influential Parsi editor of a Bombay Magazine, goaded me into sending the painting to an exhibition of the Simla Fine Arts Society. My painting won the first prize of Rs. 500/- among the landscapes. I was then only eighteen, and you can well imagine my job and pride at getting the prize”.
Just as that chance encounter on Chowpati Beach led to his first prize in the painting; throughout his life he has won and retained the friendship of many worthy patrons. It is true that he has the kind of personality which makes one feel instantly drawn to him. At the some time it is his industry and his excellence at his profession that have won for him all those patrons and to-day, past seventy, the homage of his state and the recognition of the highest leaders in the land.
From Bombay he moved to Calcutta and it was here that S.G. Thakur Singh realized that he must raise the artistic level of the Punjab. Accordingly, with the co-operation of friends, he organized THE PUNJAB FINE ARTS SOCIETY in Calcutta and the Society’s first Exhibition was held in 1926.
It is Characteristic of S.G. Thakur Singh that he should want to share. He was earning glory everywhere. He wanted his fellow artists to be equally recognized. This was to be achieved through an Art Academy which he organized in Amritsar with resolute endeavor.
He also wanted to teach those who had a desire to learn Art. His good fortune had been accidental in that he comes to the notice of Mohammad Alam. But there must be, he said to himself, many who yearn to be artists but cannot get guidance.
To dispense this he brought into being THE THAKUR SINGH SCHOOL OF ART AMRITSAR. Its record is very creditable and several of its past students are now achieving recognition as artists or as art-teachers and it has been lately recognized by the Industrial Training Deptt. of the Punjab Govt. to award diploma of Art & Craft, teacher’s course. Its managing committee consists of eminent artists, scholars and men of repute in different walks of life.
Although these activities drained much of his energy, it never side tracked him from personal achievements in art. He painted in oils, pastels and water color. His job at the theatre was routine work but he sought no leisure and drove himself hard. Thus between his winning that first prize at the Simla Exhibition and his return to Amritsar in 1933, he had painted nearly ten thousand pictures. His painting “After the Bath” won the second prize of ₤ 800 at the British Empire Exhibition in London in 1924. Ten years later at the Exhibition of Modern Indian Art, held in London and opened by the Dutchess of York (now the Queen Mother) on December 30, 1934, his painting entitled “Ganesh Puja” which depicts a typical statuesque Maharashtrain Lady offering Puja before the idol of Ganesha and later bought by Mr. M.S. Aney, created a sensation.
During another of his exhibitions at Calcutta a Maharaja bought all his paintings that were on show again a record in India.Commissions were fast in coming. Any other artist would have broken down under the strain or would have turned out mediocre work. But not so Thakur Singh. He paid the most meticulous care to each painting, no matter whether it was commissioned by the ruler of an Indian State or he was doing it for pleasure. There is not matter whether it was commissioned by the ruler of an Indian State or he was doing it for pleasure. There is not the slightest trace of hurry in a single picture of his. Every picture among his ten thousand and more work is a study, above all, in tranquility. This perhaps, is the most dominant characteristic of his work. A sense of claim, of order and of harmony communicates itself to the spectator.
Among his princely patrons have been the late Maharana of Udaipur who commissioned two hundred paintings; the late Nawab of Bhopal who commissioned one hundred paintings and the Maharaja of Kashmir, Dongarpur, Travancore, Nawanagor, Kotah, Bikaner, Kapurthala, Patiala and other States. Lord Irwin (later Lord Halifax) and Lord Linlithgow, each became the owner of Thakur Singh’s paintings “Eveninig Lights on the Old Palace, Udaipur” and “Valley of Gulmarg” respectively.
His renown has since spread aboard and many of its paintings hang in galleries in other countries. The beautiful painting “Her Last Desire” which was acquired by the Government of the U.S.S.R. hangs in the National Art Gallery, Moscow. The Scottish National Gallery, one of the most selective galleries in the world, bought his painting of the Qutab Minar, Delhi.
The country has honored him in other ways too. He was nominated to the First Punjab Legislative Council in the year 1952. He is represented on the Executive Board of the National Academy of Art (Lalit Kala Akademy) and was Chairman of the Decoration Sub Committee at the 61st Session of the Indian National Congress held at Amritsar in 1956. It is the wish of the admirers that he should be nominated to the Rajya Sabha (The House of elders) to represent Art. He was invited to U.S.S.R. and Hungary to hold his one man shows of paintings in the principal cities of these countries i.e. Moscow, Leningrad and Budapest.
In January, 1973 S. G. Thakur Singh was decorated with the award of Padma Shri by the President of India.