Recently discovered this portrait is an interesting addition to Robert Home’s oeuvre. As one of the most successful English portraitists working in India at the end of the eighteenth century, his evocative and coolly atmospheric portraits afford us a rare glimpse of life for the British in India in increasingly uncertain times. Listed in the painter’s account book we know that it was completed in May 1803 whilst the sitter was a colonel. He retired from the service as a Lt-General.
Robert Home entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1769 and began to exhibit regularly from 1780. Studying under Angelica Kauffman he worked in both Italy and Ireland before travelling to India in 1790, accompanying the army of General Cornwallis to Bangalore during the Third Anglo-Mysore War. This contact with the British military proved enduring and lucrative but by May 1795 it became clear that patronage in Madras was on the wane. In June he sailed for Calcutta and in no time at all established a successful portrait practice. In September he married and in October it was reported that he ‘was much employed, and has handsome prices, I hear’. This is confirmed by his sitters’ book, stored in the National Portrait Gallery, London. His standard charge was 500 sicca rupees (£60) for a head, and 2,000 rupees (£240) for a full-length portrait.
In addition to his commissions from wealthy East India Company civilians, Home painted several portraits of Marquis Wellesley, of Lord Minto (who succeeded him as Governor-General), and of the Marquis’s brother Arthur, later Duke of Wellington; he also portrayed a number of military commanders and high court judges. Among his patrons was the diarist William Hickey, who observed that in 1804 Home was ‘then deemed to be the best artist in Asia’. He was also an able draughtsman: his ‘Select Views in Mysore, the Country of Tippoo Sultan’ were published in London and Madras in 1794, and in Calcutta he made over two hundred watercolours of mammals, birds and reptiles.
In 1814 Robert Home left Calcutta for Lucknow, and became court painter to the Nawab (later King) Ghazi-ud-din Haidar of Oudh where he was employed not only in portraiture but in designing furniture, regalia and howdahs, receiving an annual salary of £2,000. When the King died in 1827 Home retired with his married daughter to a ‘handsome establishment’ at Cawnpore (Kanpur), his wife having past away ten years earlier. Regularly visited by some of his children he died in 1834 a wealthy man, having spent most of his long life in India.