Recently rediscovered this portrait of India merchant Richard Campbell-Bazett is a significant addition to the known works of leading Anglo-Indian artist Robert Home and represents one of his most insightful portraits. As one of the most successful English portraitists working in India at the end of the eighteenth century, his work offers us a rare glimpse of life for the British in India in increasingly uncertain times.
Born on Saint Helena to immigrant parents who settled during the East India Company’s rule of the island, Richard returned to England for his schooling at Harrow. By 1790 he was in the employ, like other members of his family, with the East India Company and stationed in Calcutta where in July that year he married Margaret Hampton. Around this time he founded a Calcutta based agency house, in partnership with a young Scot, James Colvin and by the early 19th century Colvin Bazett & Co. were involved in a wide range of businesses and investment, extending well beyond their initial interests.
The artist Robert Home was an old friend of James Colvin and from his first arrival in Calcutta in June 1795 both he and the partners in his company welcomed him. Indeed, so much so that the very first commission undertaken by Home in Calcutta on 17th June are portraits of Mr & Mrs. Bazett at 500 rupees each. Two further entries in the painter’s `sitters’ book list another pair of portraits on 30th September and another in June 1796. This portrait is from one of these sittings.
Bazett later left India for the Cape of Good Hope and then returned to England. He filed for divorce and remarried sometime after 1809, Sarah Baker, the daughter of a Sussex schoolmaster. He kept up his business interests in India via the London office and settled at Sewardstone Lodge, a Georgian villa in the country, just outside London. It is recorded that he was an accomplished writer of poetry, studying Shakespeare both on the stage and annotating his own editions.
The artist 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, through the initial commissions from the Bazett and Colvin families, in no time at all established a successful portrait practice. In September he married James Colvin’s sister-in-law, Ann Alicia 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.
Literature & Principal References:
Robert Home’s Accounts & Sitters Book, MS copy, National Portrait Gallery Archive, London; Mildred Archer, `India and British Portraiture 1770-1825′, London, 1979; Bazett family histoy: www.clanbarker.com