A number of amateur landscape artists were active in southern India in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, mostly army officers, one of the earliest being Colonel Francis Swain Ward. Trained as an artist, he forsook this profession and joined the East India Company sailing for India in 1757. Although promoted to Lieutenant in 1763, he resigned a year later in protest when passed over for further advancement in the army. Returning to London he became for a time Secretary of the Incorporated Society of Artists and exhibited at the annual exhibitions of that body 1768-1773. Failing to make a decent living he persuaded the East India Company to reinstate him as a Captain and on his appointment presented them with 10 landscapes of India . He was rewarded with 200 guineas by the Company and a further 1000 pagodas when he returned to Madras.
This large watercolour is a rare survival of one of the original views by Ward that belonged to Richard Chase (1753-1834), mayor of Madras which later passed to William & Edward Orme and was published as a coloured aquatint in’24 Views of Indostan’ (c.1802-5). Dedicated to Chase this publication contained many striking views of India which illustrated well the exotic landscapes and terrain which were fresh in the minds of the British given the recent Fourth Mysore War. Many of Swain’s originals are missing and William Orme redrew most for the purposes of engraving; his own version of this scene still exists and is with the Victoria & Albert Museum , London . The view in question shows a mosque that adjoined the enormous palace of the Nawab of Arcot at Tiruchchirappalli, Tamil Nadu. The Nawab was an ally of the British East India Company, but also harboured great ambitions of power in the South Indian arena, where Hyder Ali of Mysore, the Marathas, and the Nizam of Hyderabad were constant rivals. He was looked on favourably by the English aristocracy and army high command and Ward as an army officer in the service of the Company would have had fairly unfettered access to sketch within the palace environs.