Book Review: In Pursuit of Empire: Treasures of the Toor Collection.

‘An invaluable and important cultural document, ablaze with colour and history’


By Davinder Toor, Forward by William Dalrymple. Hardback, 332 pages, 280 x 280 mm
Over 150 colour illustrations
Special Limited Edition with free print set is now available at Kashi House,


What better way to read about Indian history than to follow a visual trail that entices you to want to learn about what you’re looking at? Indian art was rarely designed to be viewed on a wall, rather, aficionados would make a private event of it and view their collections almost as if they were an album. With this book you can follow in that tradition.

To while away a quiet afternoon, in a comfortable chair with a relaxing drink, and maybe the unobtrusive accompaniment of strains of music, while turning the pages of a book like this might be close to my idea of earthly paradise.

From the first Gurus to the last Maharaja, with perfectly pitched accompanying text by Davinder Toor and an introduction by William Dalrymple, in pursuit of Empire is a chase. Page by page you are pursuing the legend of the Sikh empire through the art it left behind. Through gory battles to elegant courts, spanning three centuries, ending in an array of 19th century photographs reproduced in near tactile definition.

A great deal of the objects featured in the 2018 SOAS Empire of the Sikh’s exhibition is in here, and if you didn’t get to see it, the detail and scope of this book comes as close as you can get to experiencing the show. The accompanying text is personal and as well as giving information about the photographs, reveals the history and significance of the Toor collection.

The wealth, power and intellectual and cultural refinement of the Sikh kingdom is on display forever to those who own this book, and conveyed without laborious language or complicated discussion, you merely have to look. Gorgeous closeups, exactly where they are needed, bring you up close to the details of objects as they could be seen by their owners. 

The portraits are so well executed that the faces staring back at you, reflect fewtures to be seen today all over the world. As an added achievement, even though they were notoriously reluctant to be captured on canvass or on photographic plate, the faces of the Sikh women appear too.

An invaluable and important cultural document, ablaze with colour and history. The rare, the well known, the strange and the familiar all easily combine in one of the most lavish and wonderful catalogues of Indian art ever put into binding. Lovers of art and history will love, indeed they will reverence this book.


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