This lively and extraordinary scene from a painting by Zoffany shows the mission of minister Haidar Beg Khan (‘Hyderbeck’ in the print title) to meet the Governor-General of India, Charles, first Marquess Cornwallis, in Calcutta. The mission’s purpose was primarily to negotiate a reduction in contributions paid to the East India Company by the Nawab (ruler) of Oudh.
However, the main subject of the picture is not Haider Beg Khan himself, who can just be made out under an umbrella on a distant elephant in the van, but the multitude of Indian people, either forming part of the train or watching it. Zoffany has also seized on a dramatic moment, when the huge elephant in the centre foreground has abruptly rounded on the ‘mahout’ (or elephant worker) riding the animal and caught the man with his trunk.
This engraving by Richard Earlom was made after the painting Zoffany exhibited at the Royal Academy, London, in 1796. The painting is now in the collection of the Victoria Memorial, a museum in Calcutta.
Portrait and history painter Johann Zoffany was born Johannes Zauffaly in Frankfurt-am-Main. After training in Regensburg, he studied in Rome (1750-57), before moving to London in 1760. He was introduced to the royal family in 1764 and George III was so impressed by his royal portraits and groups that he nominated Zoffany a Royal Academician in 1769. Zoffany was in India from 1783 to 1789, where he portrayed British residents and native princes. After his return, he painted few pictures of consequence and by 1800 had given up painting altogether. Several of his Indian works are in the Victoria Memorial, Calcutta. One of his best-known works, ‘The Cock Match at Lucknow’ painted for Warren Hastings, was purchased by the Tate in 1994.
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