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Export of Painting Depicting Indian Soldiers During WWI Banned by UK

The UK government has placed a temporary export ban on a painting by Anglo-Hungarian artist, Philip de Laszlo, which depicts two Indian soldiers who fought in World War I. The portrait, valued at around £650,000, shows cavalry officers Risaldar Jagat Singh and Risaldar Man Singh, both of whom served in the British Indian Army’s Expeditionary Force at the Battle of the Somme in France. The painting is unique in depicting active Indian participants in the First World War. Lord Stephen Parkinson, UK Arts and Heritage Minister, said, ‘This wonderful and sensitive portrait captures an important moment in our history as soldiers were drawn from across the globe to help fight in the trenches of the First World War.’ The UK government’s decision to impose an export bar follows the advice of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest, which stated that the portrait was ‘outstandingly significant to the study of the Indian contribution to the war effort and the individuals involved’.

The portrait is a fine example of a portrait by the renowned 20th-century artist, and it appears to have been created for de László’s own collection. It remained in his studio until he died in 1937. The RCEWA believes that the painting should remain in the UK to be viewed, studied and enjoyed. RCEWA Member Peter Barber said, ‘De Laszlo could well have seen parallels between the position of these outsiders loyally serving their imperial master and his own as a humbly-born Hungarian Jew who had reinvented himself as a patriotic member of British high society.’ Barber added that the portrait raises questions of personal and externally perceived British identity.

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