How a Cab Driver’s $58 Yard Sale Painting Sold for $133,500

The driver was 'speechless.'

Painting of the Golden Temple believed to be the work of Sikh artist Baba Bishan Singh. Courtesy of Roseberys Fine Art Auctioneers London.
Painting of the Golden Temple believed to be the work of Sikh artist Baba Bishan Singh. Courtesy of Roseberys Fine Art Auctioneers London.

At a nondescript yard sale 30 years ago in north London, a vibrant painting caught the eye of a taxi driver. After successfully knocking the price down to £40 ($58), according to the Daily Mail, the man left it hanging in his living room until he decided to redecorate earlier this year. So he took the colorful, two-foot-wide canvas to Roseberys auction house in the West Norwood neighborhood of London.

“I just loved the scene,” Bill Forrest, valuer at Roseberys, told artnet News in a phone interview. “You can see why it caught his eye.”

He continued, “It wasn’t signed, but we believe it’s by Baba Bishan Singh…it’s an important scene of the Golden Temple,” a sacred site for Sikhs in Amritsar, India.

Baba Bishan Singh, Self Portrait (late 19th century). Courtesy of artnet.

Baba Bishan Singh, Self-Portrait (late 19th century). Courtesy of artnet.

Forrest told artnet News that Singh belongs to a family of artists responsible for maintaining the murals on the temple’s walls. During his lifetime, Singh’s work attracted international interest, particularly in the later half of the 19th century, and may have been exhibited at the Punjab Exhibition of Arts and Industry in 1864. As a result, the painting had a number of bidders, and sold for £92,250 ($133,500) with buyer’s premium.

According to artnet’s Price Database, the sale of this painting, while certainly impressive, is still second to his 1864 painting The Court of Ranjit Singhbishan Singh, which sold at a Christie’s London auction in 2008 for £133,250 ($232,223).

However, the cab driver was nothing but pleased with the results. “He was having a bad day,” said Forrest, “he had a flat tire, and when we called him to tell him we just sold this painting, he was a bit speechless.”


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