Historical Portraits Picture Archive

An Officer of field rank, or a staff officer, probably of the East India Company's land forces, in undress uniform 

George Chinnery (1774-1852)

An Officer of field rank, or a staff officer, probably of the East India Company's land forces, in undress uniform, George Chinnery
Watercolour on ivory
Oval, 2 ½ in. (64mm.) high
This portrait of an officer by George Chinnery was one of his early commissions taken during his first year in Madras, as he disembarked at the end of December 1802. Having received permission to travel in May 1802 (when by all accounts his career was just forming – in that month he showed pictures both in Dublin and at London’s Royal Academy), he finally set sail in June on the Gilwell. Chinnery faced little competition in Madras from other portrait painters – particularly in miniature. Edward Nash had set out in 1801 but was based in Bombay until 1810.

In Madras Chinnery was well received and quickly built up a good clientele, which on account of his natural geniality was taken from a cross section of ex-patriot society – from wealthy governors-general to young officers . Although the sitter in this portrait is as yet unknown, Madras was a garrison town with plenty of opportunities for commissions from officers. 1803 marks the year the artist’s name first appears in the annual manuscript lists of non-official Europeans living there – he is listed as ‘George Chinnery, Portrait Painter’.

Having left his wife and children in England , Chinnery had the reputation of something of a bon viveur who was witty, fond of women and drink. He was, however, also an artist extremely proud of his craft. Portrait miniatures from this early part of his career are relatively rare but this example demonstrates the vivacious brushstrokes, stormy sky background and sense of movement in the head of sitter which became trademarks of his consistently fine work. 1803, the year this portrait was painted, is also the date of one of his best known miniatures, that of ‘Mrs. Sherson’ in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Chinnery left India in 1825, fleeing to China to escape debts accrued of nearly £40,000. The remaining years of his life were spent largely in Macao, where he died in 1852, an obituary notice even then referring to his “straitened circumstances”.
This was also aided by the fact that his elder brother, John Terry Chinnery, had been based in Madras since 1792 and was therefore well connected through his job in the East India Company.
Chinnery’s wife, Marianne, and his two children remained behind in England for 16 years after he left for India.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.