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Sale of recently rediscovered painting of Clive of India and Mir Jafar after the Battle of Plassey

We are pleased to announce the recent sale of an important historical painting by Francis Hayman (1708-1776) to a UK trust. The painting was rediscovered in the USA and relates to the larger version of the subject showing the victorious General Robert Clive (1725-1774) and Mir Jafar, the Nawab of Bengal (c.1691(?)–1765) after the Battle of Plassey on 23rd June 1757. Clive was extraordinarily successful in India and, on his return to England in 1760 with an enormous personal fortune, received huge critical acclaim. A version of the subject in the National Portrait Gallery, London, is regarded as an iconic depiction of the beginning of the British Empire in India.

Both paintings are probably preliminary oil sketches by Hayman for the huge canvas (12 x 15 feet) which formed part of the series of four gigantic pictures illustrating glorious victories from the Seven Years War (1756-63) which were installed in the annex to the Rotunda at the fashionable Vauxhall Gardens by the proprietor Jonathan Tyers (1702-67). Although much acclaimed at the time of their unveiling in the early 1760s, all four large pictures had disappeared from the Gardens by 1840 (they were almost certainly removed and probably destroyed by that date or soon after) but a lengthy description of the original large pictures was published in a contemporary guidebook to the gardens and in the London press which enabled the identification of the subject by Dr Brian Allen.

In 1756 the Nawab of Oudh, Siraj-ud-Daula, (1733-1757) captured the East India Company’s settlement at Calcutta and imprisoned British captives in the infamous Black Hole. Robert Clive, in command of the Company’s army, recaptured Calcutta in January 1757 and then took the French fort at nearby Chandernagore in March. Clive then deposed Siraj, with the help of Mir Jafar at the Battle of Plassey.

Mir Jafar’s rule is usually considered to be the start of British imperialism in India. He had effectively betrayed his predecessor Siraj ud-Dulah (1733-1757) who was killed soon after the battle, in order to become the next Nawab of Bengal. He gave a fortune of around £3 million to the East India Company, but in 1760 Mir Jafar was forced to abdicate in favour of his son-in-law Mir Qasim (d.1777). In 1763 Mir Jafar was restored with the full support of the Company for the remaining two years of his life. In 1764 Clive assumed supreme military and civil power in Bengal and forced the Mughal Emperor Sah ‘Alam to allow him to collect revenue (diwan) on his behalf.

A letter in the National Library of Wales (Robert Clive Papers H1/1-4) reveals that Clive visited Hayman’s studio on 26 April 1763 when Henry Clive paid 5s to ‘Mr Hamans the painter’. This is recorded in an account book in the handwriting of Henry Clive (1709-1775), who was a first cousin of Clive of India’s father.  When Robert Clive came back from India for the second time in 1760, with his young cousin George in attendance, cousin Henry, who was an attorney, seems to have become a kind of steward, travelling with the party and keeping this account book (Dr Charlotte Mitchell kindly shared this information by email in October 2018). This shows that Clive almost certainly commissioned a painting from Hayman and it seems highly likely that he saw the Vauxhall Gardens work and decided that he wanted one for himself.

Despite never setting foot in India Hayman was among the first British artists to exploit Indian subject matter, a genre that was to become increasingly popular towards the end of the century in the hands of artists who did travel to the sub-Continent such as Zoffany and Tilly Kettle.

Francis HAYMAN, Battle of Plassey