Oil on canvas; 32 by 26 ins; 81 x 66cm; held in neo-classical style frame
Provenance: Sabin Gallery, 1973
This intriguing portrait shows a strong influence of two British artists working in India, George Chinnery (1774-1852) and Arthur William Devis (1762-1822). Depicting a gentleman at ease in a late Regency interior it is a synthesis both compositionally and stylistically of their approach to Anglo-Indian portraiture of the period. The detailed depiction of the sitter, whose folio of watercolours spill over the chaise longue beside him, contrasts with the broader sketchiness of the airy room he occupies. This sense of space is further enhanced by the graceful arch and tall pillar, indicating a grand exterior of a neo-classical kind, which frames an expansive vista beyond, suggesting the warmth and colour of foreign climes.
Both Chinnery and Devis excelled in the depiction of the British in India in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In this instance the manner of depicting the background is strongly similar to that of Devis and to a certain extent so is the figure; compositionally the whole work echoes Chinnery, with accents of red colour throughout. The very accomplished artist of this work clearly had a keen eye and dexterous hand to harness such subtlety from other artists work. Many amateur painters travelled around the country depicting the people and landscapes and this seems to be a depiction of one such individual. His attire and elegant ease suggest a gentleman of leisure; this portrait, no doubt destined for a family residence in England, capturing him on his sojourn.
Reference: Information on major painters and good details on amateur artists working in India is available in H. & J. Berry “George Chinnery 1774-1852: Artist of the China Coast”, 1963; Mildred Archer “India and British Portraiture 1770-1825”, 1979