Historical Portraits Picture Archive

A portrait miniature of an Indian Gentleman, wearing red patterned jama (robe) and white loose turban, painted circa 1787 

Ozias Humphry RA (1742-1810)

A portrait miniature of an Indian Gentleman, wearing red patterned jama (robe) and white loose turban, painted circa 1787, Ozias Humphry RA
Watercolour on ivory
18th Century
Oval, 85mm (3 3/8in.) high
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Ozias Humphry arrived in India in July 1785 after several years of planning. As a young artist, an exact contemporary of Richard Cosway, R.A., his talent had been noted by Sir Joshua Reynolds. His career progressed rapidly during the late 1760s and 1770s, with sales of his portrait miniatures to George III and many important commissions. In 1773 he left London to tour Italy with George Romney, returning in 1777. In 1779 he began his long association with the Royal Academy, being elected A.R.A.. During the early 1780s he was introduced to the idea of furthering his financial prospects in India, where Zoffany was said to have been making his fortune. Encouraged by the idea of fiscal security in his old age, he set sail in January 1785.

Humphry’s time in India initially progressed well with some important commissions but he soon slid into depression, complaining in his reports home about the high cost of living and the attitude of the Calcutta residents who “require as much as they would in London and more”. In response he moved to Lucknow with a letter of introduction to the Nawab and hopeful of commissions from the numerous well-heeled residents of the city. Unfortunately, although the Nawab was happy to sit for Humphry he was rather less willing to pay and when he left India in 1787 he continued to pursue this debt. On arrival back in England he continued to work steadily, being appointed ‘Painter in crayons’ to the King in 1792. His eyesight gradually declined however and he resorted to working in crayon until he could no longer see to draw.

Although most artists in India, including Humphry, sketched the local population , this more finished work on ivory would suggest the sitter was of a rather higher status – possibly a local dignitary. Similar clothing can be seen in the ‘assistants’ portrayed behind Lieutenant-Colonel William Kirkpatrick in the oil painting by Thomas Hickey (National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin).

British Library, Humphry Collection, MSS. Vol. 3, 49.
He stated that he wished to spend some of his time ‘drawing and painting the dresses and manners of the people’.
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