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Watercolours

An exceptionally fine Company School drawing of the Pearl Mosque

An exceptionally fine Company School drawing of the Pearl Mosque An exceptionally fine Company School drawing of the Pearl Mosque

Opaque watercolour with ink and gold detail, black ruled borders, on paper watermarked ‘J WHATMAN 1804’. Inscription to bottom right in a contemporary hand ‘Mootee Musjid’. Dimensions: 21.5 ins. height, 29.7 ins width. Section only illustrated initially. Circa 1810–20

A work of comparable size and quality showing the same prospect of the Pearl Mosque is in the British Library, (Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections). This was presented to the East India Company by John Bax Esq., Bombay Civil Service, 9 September, 1824 and possibly purchased when he was in Delhi or Agra some time in 1821 or 1822. (Add.Or.1796. Item no. 1796).

The Pearl Mosque or Moti Masjid


The Pearl Mosque or Moti Masjid, built by Shah Jahan, stands on ground that slopes from east to west to the north of the Diwan-i-Am complex in Agra Fort. The mosque was built at the highest point within the Agra Fort between 1648 and 1655 during the reign of Shah Jahan (r. 1628-1658). Built principally as a military establishment by Akbar in 1565, the red sandstone fort at Agra was partially converted into a palace during Shah Jahan’s reign.

The view is of the main courtyard of the Pearl Mosque with its arcaded marble side cloisters. The arched recessions are punctuated on the north and south sides by two gate-ways, each surmounted by three kiosks. In the centre of the courtyard is a square tank with the main sanctuary facade lying beyond. The sanctuary itself is surmounted by three elegant marble domes, resting on an aisle of seven saracenic arches. Over the centre of each arch is a kiosk. Each dome is contoured and rises from the roof in the form of a flower-bud on the point of unfolding. In each corner of the sanctuary are octagonal towers crowned by a marble cupola.

Company School Drawings


The myth of the ‘Great Mogul’ and his glittering palaces had fascinated the British from the earliest days of the East India Company. However, it was not until the Third Maratha War in 1803 that they occupied Delhi. Viewing the monuments became a fashionable pursuit. Picnics were arranged specifically to see them and the British wandered amongst the broken masonry as though they were in Rome. In this environment, demand for representations grew. Many of the British were amateur artists and could make sketches for themselves, but the intricacy of Mughal architecture was difficult for them to record accurately. This problem was easily resolved – Delhi and Agra, throughout the Mughal period, had been great centres of painting under the patronage of successive emperors. So it was not difficult to find skilled artists to record Mughal monuments.

By about 1808, large architectural drawings became available which were clearly influenced by British taste. The traditional medium of gouache was replaced by pen-and-ink and watercolour, executed on large sheets of Whatman paper, in soft washes of cream, buff, grey and pink with touches of gold, green, red or blue within a black ruled border. These large-scale drawings were produced in small numbers for wealthy East India Company officials. Most are now in permanent collections.

The appeal for this genre declined from about 1815. The earlier demand by wealthy East India Company officials for large-scale architectural drawing was replaced by the dictates of a market for more economically produced versions on smaller sheets of paper and of uniform size. The subjects were repeated over and over again and the small variations which had given character and liveliness to the earlier drawings disappeared.

The content of the above three paragraphs has been drawn from Mildred Archer’s Company Drawings in the India Office Library, London 1972. pp. 166-169.

Provenance


The Edmonstone Family Collection, Duntreath Castle, Scotland. Four generations of the Edmonstone family have been associated with the East India Company and the Indian Civil Service.

Notable among these were Neil Benjamin Edmonstone (1765–1841), fifth son of Sir Archibald Edmonstone of Duntreath who was, from 1798, private secretary to the new Governor-General, Lord Mornington (afterwards Marquess Wellesley). ‘On 1 January 1801 he was appointed Secretary to the government of India in the Secret, Political, and Foreign Department, and he played as important a part in forming the plans which were to crush the Maráthás as he had done in the war against Tippoo Sultan’, Sir John Kaye, Lives of Indian Officers Illustrative of the Civil and Military Services of India, London 1867.

He continued to exercise significant influence over the formation and implementation of policy towards the native states under successive Governor-Generals including Lord Cornwallis and Lord Minto. In 1820, he was elected to the Court of Directors of the East India Company, and continued in this capacity until his death.

Neil Benjamin’s fourth son, (later Sir) George Frederick Edmonstone, born in 1813, followed his father into the Indian Civil Service and became Foreign Secretary to the Government of India in 1855 and again during the ‘Indian Mutiny’. He was made Lieutenant-Governor of the North-Western Provinces in 1859, retiring in 1863.

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