Circa 1820 England

Robert Home (1752-1834) Portrait of John Walter Sherer (1776-1846), Accountant-General of Bengal


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Height 38 1/2 inches (97.75 cm)
Width 35 1/4 inches (89.5 cm)
Depth 3 1/2 inches (8.5 cm)

Portrait of John Walter Sherer (1776-1846), Accountant-General of Bengal

Oil on canvas; held in a magnificent early 19th century gilt frame

Provenance: By family descent

Literature: Robert Home’s Accounts & Sitters Book, National Portrait Gallery, London

Recently discovered this portrait is an interesting addition to Robert Home’s oeuvre. As one of the most successful English portraitists working in India at the end of the eighteenth century, his evocative and coolly atmospheric portraits afford us a rare glimpse of life for the British in India in increasingly uncertain times.

Listed in the painter’s account book we know that this portrait was completed by Home in April 1802 at a cost of 300 Rupees. Sherer arrived in India in 1798, as a financial administrator for the East India Company and rose in that capacity to become Accountant-General of Bengal. He married Mary Corrie in December 1812 and stayed in Bengal until 1826 when he finally returned back to England. One of his sons and grandsons returned to India and worked in the Civil Service as well as the forces.

Robert Home entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1769 and began to exhibit regularly from 1780. Studying under Angelica Kauffman he worked in both Italy and Ireland before travelling to India in 1790, accompanying the army of General Cornwallis to Bangalore during the Third Anglo-Mysore War. This contact with the British military proved enduring and lucrative but by May 1795 it became clear that patronage in Madras was on the wane. In June he sailed for Calcutta and in no time at all established a successful portrait practice. In September he married and in October it was reported that he ‘was much employed, and has handsome prices, I hear’. This is confirmed by his sitters’ book, stored in the National Portrait Gallery, London.

In addition to his commissions from wealthy East India Company civilians, Home painted several portraits of Marquess Wellesley, of Lord Minto (who succeeded him as Governor-General), and of the Marquess’s brother Arthur, later Duke of Wellington; he also portrayed a number of military commanders and high court judges. Among his patrons was the diarist William Hickey, who observed that in 1804 Home was ‘then deemed to be the best artist in Asia’. In 1814 Robert Home left Calcutta for Lucknow, and became court painter to the Nawab (later King) Ghazi-ud-din Haidar of Oudh where he was employed not only in portraiture but in designing furniture, regalia and howdahs, receiving an annual salary of £2,000. When the King died in 1827 Home retired with his married daughter to a ‘handsome establishment’ at Cawnpore (Kanpur), his wife having past away ten years earlier. Regularly visited by some of his children he died in 1834 a wealthy man, having spent most of his long life in India.

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