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3. Ghulam Husayn Khan, an Afghan, with Munni Banu and her child, By a master artist working for William Fraser
Delhi, India
c. 1820
Opaque watercolour and gold on paper
31 x 41.8 cm
Ghulam Husayn Khan, an Afghan, with Munni Banu and her child, By a master artist working for William Fraser

The gifted East India company officer William Fraser was based around Delhi from 1806, when he employed a painter to compile an exceptional visual and ethnographic record of the people and places. He worked as a revenue officer in the rural territories in the environs of the capital.

The group of superb images known as the Fraser album, include some of the finest company paintings. The master artist recruited by Fraser became a close member of his entourage and travelled with him understanding his taste and requirement. He developed an individual style using transparent watercolour, elongated figures, stippling emphasizing the brushstrokes, and miniaturist attention to detail.

William Fraser is known to have read and spoken Hindustani and Persian, besides having more than one Indian wife. His diaries vividly inform us about his interactions with people and offer a glimpse of the extent lives of the Indian and British were intertwined. A number of individuals portrayed in the album are people who worked for William, including ‘Ummee Chand’, his faithful servant who saved his life, dressed in the uniform of Skinner’s horse in a work now in the Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan collection.

The sensitive portrait group of the Afghan family, he holds a bow and is dressed primarily in white. The painter’s skill at communicating the volume and detail of costume is striking. The woman and child form a vertical counterpoint in a bold compositional form as the picture has a plain background. The detailing of her indigo sari is exquisitely painted with white highlights that delight the eye. There are highlights of gold on the ornaments worn by the sitters that add a layer of complexity to the restrained palette.

Lines of text in nasta-liq calligraphy identify the subjects at the top of the leaf.

Published: Archer and Falk. India Revealed: The Art and Adventures of James and William Fraser 1801-35. London, New York and Sidney: Cassell, 1989.

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