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1 / Converging Cultures

Portrait of East India Company Official (probably William Fullerton)
Portrait of East India Company Official (probably William Fullerton)
Artist / Origin Dip Chand (Indian, active 18th c.)
Date 1760-63
Material Opaque watercolor on paper
Medium: Painting
Dimensions H: 10 ½ in. (26.2 cm.), W: 9 in. (22.7 cm.)
Location The Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK
Credit Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London/Art Resource, NY

expert perspective

Romita RayAssistant Professor of Art History, Syracuse University
Romita RayAssistant Professor of Art History, Syracuse University

Additional Resources

Chakraverty, Anjan. Indian Miniature Painting. New Delhi: Roli, 2005.

Dehejia, Vidya. Indian Art. London: Phaidon, 1997.

“Encounters: The Meeting of Asia and Europe, 1500–1800 (September 23–December 5, 2004).” The Victoria and Albert Museum Web site. http://www.vam.ac.uk/vastatic/microsites/1196_encounters.

Pal, Pratapaditya, and Vidya Dehejia. From Merchants to Emperors: British Artists and India, 1757–1930. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press in association with the Pierpont Morgan Library and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1986.

Sardar, Marika. “Company Painting in Nineteenth-Century India.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Web site. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/cpin/hd_cpin.htm (October 2004).

Portrait of East India Company Official (probably William Fullerton)

» Dip Chand (Indian, active 18th c.)

In 1600, Queen Elizabeth I granted a royal charter to the newly formed East India Company, giving the company exclusive trading rights to India and the Far East.

Over the next two hundred and fifty years, officials associated with the company became wealthy through trade with India and gained tremendous political influence there. Although originally rooted in mercantile activity, after the 1750s, British power in India increasingly came through military action. Contact between the British and Indians, however, was limited neither to the marketplace nor the battlefield.

In the latter part of the eighteenth century, members of the East India Company who had settled abroad began to commission native artists to create paintings that depicted various aspects of their new environment, including indigenous flora and fauna, historic sites, and local people. Although these works varied stylistically according to region, they frequently melded European aesthetics with traditional Indian approaches to art; the artists who created them came to be known collectively as the “Company School.”

This work is a portrait by Company School artist Dip Chand, who was active in Murshidabad. The administrative capital of Bengal, Murshidabad was a commercial center and a British stronghold. Nevertheless, traditional local painting styles remained dominant in the region. The sitter for this portrait was a Company official, likely William Fullerton, a Scottish surgeon who resided in India from 1744 to 1766. Fullerton was what his British contemporaries would have called a nabob. A Hindi word originally used for Mughal governors, in the eighteenth century, nabob came to refer generally to any European who had made a fortune in the East. In Britain, the term took on a pejorative connotation and was used derisively to describe countrymen who had become too “Indianized.”

In this portrait, Fullerton employs an Indian artist working primarily in the Indian style. The painting shows him fully immersed in the lifestyle of his new homeland. However, a colonial mentality seems to temper the notion of benign cultural acclimation. Fullerton, still dressed in British garb, is waited upon by Indian servants. While the others stand, he sits—a position indicative of rank according to European etiquette. Finally, his pose appropriates the profile view often reserved for emperors and princes in Indian imagery, while simultaneously conjuring associations with European depictions of authority rooted in classical antiquity.

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