Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Ghazi-ud-din Haidar, King of Oudh 

Robert Home (1752-1834)

Portrait of Ghazi-ud-din Haidar, King of Oudh, Robert Home
Oil on canvas
19th Century
22 ½ x 20 inches, 57 x 51cms. In a gilt Robert Home frame.
The Gutton family, Guernsey by the 19th Century; English private collection.
This portrait is an important addition to the work of Robert Home, the leading Anglo-Indian artist, and was recently featured in an important exhibition at the Musée Guimet on the royal court at Lucknow. It was painted in about 1819, when Home was the court artist of one of India’s highest ranking Muslim rulers, Ghazi-ud-din Haidar, the King of Oudh. Oudh’s capital Lucknow was one of the wealthiest cities in India. Recently identified by this gallery, the portrait is one of only a handful of surviving portraits of Ghazi-ud-din Haidar by Robert Home.

Born in Hull in 1752, Home was determined from an early age to become an artist. However, his father, a former army surgeon, insisted that he went into medicine, and so, at the unlikely age of about twelve, Home stowed away on a ship bound for Newfoundland. On his return he was treated for a broken arm by his brother-in-law, the eminent surgeon John Hunter, under whom he developed a skill for anatomical drawings. In the late 1760s he began to study painting under Angelica Kauffman in London, and was able to exhibit at the Royal Academy from 1780 onwards. He briefly worked in both Italy and Ireland before sailing to India in 1791, where he accompanied the army of Lord Cornwallis as official artist during the arduous campaign against Tipu Sultan, later depicted in Home’s large scale history paintings. By the mid 1790s Home had established himself as one of the most successful English portraitists working in Calcutta. A surprising number of his evocative and coolly atmospheric portraits survive (although they are invariably misattributed) and afford us a rare glimpse of daily life for the British in India at a time when Britain’s position in the subcontinent was undergoing a dramatic change.

Soon it was reported that Home ‘was much employed, and has handsome prices’, a fact confirmed by his sitters’ book, which is preserved in the National Portrait Gallery, London. His standard charge was 500 rupees (about £60) for a head, and 2,000 rupees (£240) for a full-length portrait. In addition to his commissions from wealthy East India Company merchants, Home painted several portraits of Marquis Wellesley, of Lord Minto (who succeeded Wellesley as Governor-General), and of the Marquis’s brother Arthur, later the Duke of Wellington. Other patrons included the diarist William Hickey, who observed that in 1804 Home was ‘then deemed to be the best artist in Asia’.
In 1814 Robert Home, by then in his sixties, left Calcutta for Lucknow to become court painter to the Nawab of Oudh. He had been offered the post by the then ruler, Saadat Ali Khan, on the advice of the British ‘resident’, John Baillie. Saadat Ali Khan had died by the time Home reached Lucknow in August 1814, but the artist was nonetheless confirmed in his post by Saadat Ali Khan’s son, Ghazi-ud-din Haidar.

The Nawabs of Oudh had a record of patronising European artists, and a taste for western extravagances that often threatened to bankrupt the state. Ghazi-ud-din Haidar’s uncle, Asaf-ud-Daula, spent lavishly on jewels and trinkets, and employed, amongst others, John Zoffany. Zoffany had travelled to India in search of his second fortune (having lost the first) and, hearing that Oudh was a sea of largesse, headed straight for Lucknow. Asaf-ud-Daula is depicted in Zoffany’s most celebrated Indian painting, Colonel Mordaunt’s Cock Match [Tate], which depicts the loose morals and extravagance of the Oudh court. It is said that other artists working for Asaf-ud-Daula had great difficulty ever completing group portraits of the court, on account of the Nawab regularly beheading his ministers.

Fortunately for Home, Oudh’s reputation and finances had been restored by the time Ghazi-ud-din Haidar inherited the throne from his father in 1814. Ghazi-ud-din Haidar appears to have been a fairly benign ruler compared to some of his predecessors, and he was content merely to enjoy the trappings of power. Sir Edward Paget, the British army’s commander in chief in India, observed that he was “an extremely good and kind hearted man, but like myself preferring anything and everything to his business. Accordingly, instead of attending to affairs of State, he spends his time in boat-building and house-building, in turning, in printing, in collecting European and especially English commodities of all sorts, descriptions and kinds, and, in short, idling.” Ghazi-ud-din Haidar built lavish new palaces, one of which was furnished with an English style picture gallery with chandeliers and western furniture. Key to his decorative taste was Robert Home, who provided many of the designs used for the construction, some of which can be seen today in the V&A.

Home held the post of court painter for thirteen years. He received an annual salary of about £2,000, and was employed not only in portraiture, furniture and architecture, but also in designing howdahs and official regalia. Miniature versions of the head seen present portrait were used on medals given by the King, including that worn by Sir Edward Paget in Home’s miniature portrait (National Portrait Gallery, London). An insightful view of Home’s work in Lucknow is given by Bishop Heber, who, visiting in 1824, wrote that: “Mr. Home would have been a distinguished painter had he remained in Europe, for he had a great deal of taste and his drawing is very good and rapid; but it has been of course a great disadvantage to him to have only his own work to study, and he probably finds it necessary to paint in glowing colours to satisfy his Royal masters.”

A number of portraits of Ghazi-ud-din Haidar were commissioned from Home. What is probably the first type is seen in an engraving by William Say of a portrait given to John Baillie, which was published in London in 1817. The elaborate crown in the present portrait postdates the work to after Ghazi-ud-din Haidar’s assumption of the title ‘King of Oudh’, which he was encouraged to do by Warren Hastings, the then Governor General, in 1819. The move was intended to assert Oudh’s independence from the nominal Mughal Emperor in Delhi, but also effectively sealed British influence over the state. Unusually, a number of preparatory drawings for the various post 1819 portraits survive in the British Library Collection, and reveal the care Home took to portray the King’s regalia and English-style ermine cloak. The cloak is not seen in the present portrait, but does feature in the elaborate full-scale depiction of The King of Oudh receiving Tribute in the Royal Collection (Millar no.832). The chair in which Ghazi-ud-din Haidar sits here is probably one of those designed by Home for the coronation ceremony. In the background we see a composite of Ghazi-ud-din Haidar’s building programme, including, on the right, the Shah Najaf based on a Shi’ite monument in Iraq, which signified Ghazi-ud-din’s role as defender of the Shi’a faith in India.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.