In the 18th century, as the Anglo-Mysore Wars raged between the British East India Company and the Kingdom of Mysore, a curious British public followed the development from miles away. As communication channels provided information, Giles Tillotson, Senior Vice President (Exhibitions and Publications), DAG, notes how artists fueled a public appetite for images relating to the ruler of Mysore Tipu Sultan on a scale unmatched by any another comparable figure. In the book, Tipu Sultan: Image & Distance, Tillotson writes, “What else can be said of Tipu Sultan, he had an unequaled career as a subject of British history painting.”
In an eponymous exhibition which opens at DAG, The Claridges on July 25, Tillotson has collected several famous paintings from the period alongside maps depicting wartime positions and the cityscape of Mysore sketched and painted during the period. From the DAG collection, the display case features depictions of the war as well as the era, showing how the battle was interpreted by foreign and local artists. Highlights include Henry Singleton’s The Last Effort and Fall of Tippoo Sultan. The 1802 canvas depicts Tipu Sultan’s inability to fight the British despite his might, and a British officer at his side plunging a dagger into Tipu as he falls. Tillotson notes: “This is all entirely imaginary: no one on the British side saw the moment Tipu fell in action… he was more likely killed by a long shot than by a close encounter.
According to Tillotson, Robert Ker Porter’s depiction of the war in the 1800 work Finding the Body of Tippoo Sultan was closer to the narratives offered at the time. One of the best-known depictions of the fall of Srirangapatna, he wrote, was Robert Ker Porter’s triptych Tippoo Sultan’s Last Effort for the Defense of Seringapatam Fortresses – The Taking of Seringapatam – The Glorious Conquest of Seringap- atam. The exhibition features an engraving of John Vendramini’s painting. “Tipu Sultan is represented on the ramparts on the left; while General Baird commands the assault on the gap, in the center,” writes Tillotson.
There are also eyewitness accounts. The exhibit includes Robert Homes views of Mysore. The official artist of the Third Mysore War, he accompanied the armies under Lord Cornwallis during the sieges of Bangalore and Srirangapatna and the surrender of Tipu Sultan’s sons as hostages in 1792. Three editions of the English newspaper The Northampton Mercury, bearing reports and descriptions of the war.
Speaking of conservation and collection, Tillotson notes: “As much through engraved versions as from originals, these works are well known and they have been studied and illustrated before – but not always, I think, in a manner attentive to the details of the development of history painting in England and France at this time. I place them between an already established type, which was intended to illustrate episodes illustrating heroic virtue, and a new type of war painting. More importantly, the works and the attitudes they embody, originally intended for a British audience, are here presented for the first time to close scrutiny, specifically to an Indian audience.