The sitters in this portrait are yet to be identified. However, the man’s uniform indicates that he is a British Field Officer (an Officer of the rank of Major, Lieutenant-Colonel or Colonel), probably of the British East India Company. Golden bands can be seen decorating the sleeves of the officer’s uniform and these may indicate that he is from one of the East India Company’s three presidential armies: those of Bengal, Madras or Bombay. The portrait was painted by the artist George Chinnery, almost certainly at the time when Chinnery was living in Calcutta in the early 1820s. Calcutta was the capital of British India and Chinnery’s numerous Calcutta portraits depict members of the civil and military establishments, their wives and children.
Chinnery made several similar double portraits, showing a standing gentleman with his seated wife, many of which include the same distinctive chair. Other examples include an oil on canvas ‘Portrait of a Gentleman and his Wife’, sold through Sotheby’s, London, in 1983 and a pencil portrait of ‘Colonel St. Leger and his Wife’, sold through Phillips, London, in 2001.
George Chinnery was born in London, the son of a writing master. He studied at the Royal Academy Schools. In 1796 he moved to Dublin and became Secretary of the Society of Artists in Ireland. In 1802 he returned to England and, later that year, left behind a wife and two children to travel to Madras as a painter for the East India Company. Here he painted portraits and published topographical etchings. In 1808, he moved to Dacca and, by 1812, was in Calcutta, where he became the principal portrait painter. However, he also ran up a debt of c.30,000 rupees. By 1825 he had fled to Macau on the coast of China. In Macau he painted portraits (particularly of expatriate merchants) and made topographical drawings. He died in the city, aged 74.
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