An English officer, Captain Lyons of the Bengal Infantry, seated smoking a hookah, watching nautch girls performing, with a retinue of Indian musicians and servants Calcutta, by an Indian artist, after an original painting of 1801 by Captain Crockatt of the Bengal Engineers, circa 1810-12

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Lot 172
An English officer, Captain Lyons of the Bengal Infantry, seated smoking a hookah, watching nautch girls performing, with a retinue of Indian musicians and servants
Calcutta, by an Indian artist, after an original painting of 1801 by Captain Crockatt of the Bengal Engineers, circa 1810-12

Sold for £ 50,062 (US$ 68,193) inc. premium
An English officer, Captain Lyons of the Bengal Infantry, seated smoking a hookah, watching nautch girls performing, with a retinue of Indian musicians and servants
Calcutta, by an Indian artist, after an original painting of 1801 by Captain Crockatt of the Bengal Engineers, circa 1810-12
gouache on paper
380 x 530 mm.

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    General Sir George Nugent, 1st Bt. (1757-1849), Commander-in-Chief, India, 1811-13, & Maria, Lady Nugent.
    Thence by descent via the Nugents to the current owners.

    Published
    A. L. Cohen (ed.), Lady Nugent's East India Journal, Oxford 2014, pl. 4.

    A close copy by an Indian artist working in Calcutta of an original painting, dated 1801, by Captain Crockett, an Engineers officer, now in the British Museum (1946,0624.4). The inscription on the reverse of this painting reads: Drawn by Capt Crockatt Engineers Bengal Establishment 1801 - The officer represented is Captain Lyons - Infantry Bengal Establishment.

    As a depiction of the lives of East India Company officers and their relations with Indians, this painting must rank alongside the well-known depictions of, for instance, John Wombwell smoking a hookah (Lucknow, 1790), William Fullarton (Murshidabad or Patna, 1760), Zoffany's painting of the Impey family with Indian musicians, the Delhi painting of Sir David Ochterlony, or Colonel Polier watching a nautch, by Tilly Kettle. or in a more female context, the two paintings of Lady Impey with her Calcutta household (illustrated in W. Dalrymple (ed.), Forgotten Masters: Indian Painting for the East India Company, London 2019, p. 49; or in S. C. Welch, Room For Wonder: Indian Painting during the British Period, 1760-1880, New York 1978, p. 23, fig. 3).

    Despite the British presence, and the British artist of the original, it is the group of Indians who are the main focus, in all their variety: from the senior servants with their silver chauris, the presumably middle-ranking under-butlers, such as the figure on the left who stands demurely with his arms folded across his stomach; the female figures with their green robes; the musicians; and the sepoy cradling his musket lurking in the doorway at the back.

    Lady Nugent, at least, seems to have felt a similar fascination on her arrival in Calcutta and afterwards, impressed by the numbers of servants (even for someone who was, unlike us, used to having servants), their varied livery, and their manner towards the English. On visiting General Hewett's house in January 1812, she noted:
    We found Sepoy Grenadier Sentinels at the gate; they are fine looking men, and I like their dress extremely - it has a very military appearance. The yard in front of the house was filled with servants [...] The footmen are called Kitmatgars - we dress ours in white, with scarlet sashes, or rather white and scarlet mixed or twisted together - scarlet bands to their turbans - and silver crescents in front - this dress is really very pretty. [This livery can be seen in lot 173, Lady Nugent in her palanquin]. The servants were all drawn up in order, and when we got out of the carriage they all made salaams down to the ground. The whole of the party attended us into the house - the inferiors arranging themselves in the hall, the superiors attending us up to the drawing room. (Cohen, p. 37).
    Once they had started on their tour up-country, she recorded that 'Sir George and I could not help laughing at the number of our attendants; we were surrounded by silver stick men and kitmagars, the soubadar or native officer of the escort was at a distance, and the havildar, or sergeant, waited a small distance behind him' (Cohen, p. 74) - this on the bank of a river in the middle of nowhere.

    She was also struck by the importance in Indian society of the hookah, 'which are indeed an extraordinary sort of things'. Early on she commented that 'neither Sir George nor myself find the smell very disagreeable, or insupportable [...] 'I have, however, set my face against young men smoking, as it is in reality an odious custom.' Not long after this, she tried it herself, at the suggestion of another English woman. 'I tried to smoke it, as she assured me it was only a composition of spices, but I did it awkwardly, swallowing the smoke, and the consequence was I coughed all night'. (Cohen, pp. 48, 54).
Contacts
An English officer, Captain Lyons of the Bengal Infantry, seated smoking a hookah, watching nautch girls performing, with a retinue of Indian musicians and servants Calcutta, by an Indian artist, after an original painting of 1801 by Captain Crockatt of the Bengal Engineers, circa 1810-12
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