top of page

Sawai Ram Singh II, Maharaja of Jaipur

by Wendy Garden, Assistant Director Access & Engagement at Library & Archives NT

Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh II was the ruler of the princely state of Jaipur from 1852 to 1880. While a traditionalist in most areas of Rajput custom and religion, he instigated a range of modern reforms including establishing a school for girls to make Jaipur one of the most progressive of the Rajput states in the nineteenth century. He was also a keen photographer setting up one of the first photographic studios in India in his palace.


Introduced to the medium by T Murray, Ram Singh quickly mastered the wet collodion plate technique, developing and printing his own photographs which numbered in the thousands. He was alert to photography’s potential as both a documentary record and a creative medium. He documented the city of Jaipur, visiting dignitaries and the men and women of his court. His self-portraits reveal a more playful manipulation of personas through costume, pose and props and include photographs of the prince as a traditional Rajput ruler, as a Sadhu (holy man), and as a modern leader adopting the pose and symbols of learning common in European portraits of the day. The portrait from the Museum of Art & Photography Collection, Bengaluru, is a simple head and shoulders depiction. Here he is placed before a monochrome backdrop in an oval frame – a popular format for portraits at this time. By eliminating distracting details, the plain background focuses attention on the prince’s face endowing the portrait with an ethereal quality.


In contrast, his photographs of courtesans reveal each woman sitting on a chair before a painted backdrop of a drawing room. Displaying the influence of European portrait conventions, the photographs depict each woman well dressed and dignified, knees together, one hand resting upon the other – a possible retort to British concerns at the time regarding the oppressed and licentious conditions women were claimed to inhabit.



Images: Sawai Ram SINGH II, Maharaja of Jaipur

Portrait of Sawai Ram Singh II, Maharaja of Jaipur  c. 1860
Portrait of a courtesan  c. 1860
albumen prints

22.4 x 16.1 cm (each)

courtesy of the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) (Bengaluru)

Sawai Ram Singh II, Maharaja of Jaipur_install view_1800.jpg

Image: Installation view of Visions of India: for the colonial to the contemporary featuring artworks by Sawai Ram Singh II, Maharaja of Jaipur, Monash Gallery of Art, 2021

bottom of page