Historical Portraits Picture Archive

A Young Hindu, probably called ‘Venkataramman’, wearing a jama and turban 

John Smart (1741-1811)

A Young Hindu, probably called ‘Venkataramman’, wearing a jama and turban, John Smart
Pencil and watercolour on paper
Rectangular, 71 x 61mm (2 ¾ x 2 3/8 in.)
The artist; His widow Mary Morton; By family descent to Mrs. Lilian Dyer, by whom sold; Christie’s, London, 26 November 1937, lot 14 (with one other work); Bought from above by ‘Meatyard’ (£2.0.0) Karin Henninger-Tavcar, 1999; Private Collection, Germany
Gilded wood frame.

This drawing is an important addition to the small number of sketches of Indian subjects made by Smart during his time in Madras. It was probably conceived as a preparatory drawing, its purpose to be developed into a miniature on ivory. That Smart’s drawings of Indian subjects were highly prized is evidenced by the noteworthy commission of two portraits from him of the sons of Tipu Sultan (1750-1799) (see fig.?). These differ from the present work in that they are highly finished graphite drawings, but sketches such as this would have been highly prized as they captured an exceptionally intimate moment between artist and sitter. Such studies always afforded a more penetrating study of character, which was particularly fascinating when the artist was faced with a subject from a markedly different culture.
An inscription on the reverse of this work, which was until recently concealed, suggests the sitter was a ‘Bramin’ (or ‘Brahmin’) – a member of the highest caste amongst Hindus. The inscription also states what is believed to be his name – Vencataramman. A more accurate spelling of this name would be Venkataramman, but Smart often wrote names phonetically, as seen on the reverse of the drawing of Lieutenant-Colonel Maule (Cat.44), where he wrote the sitter’s name as ‘Maurle’.

The name Venkataramman originates from southern India and derives from the name of the sacred Venkata Hill (alternatively Venkatadri or Venkatachala) - one of the seven peaks surrounding the hill town of Tirumala in the Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh. On this peak is the Tirumala Venkateswara Temple, where pilgrims go to worship the Hindu god Venkateswara (a form of the deity Vishnu).
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.