Thursday, September 24, 2015

"Lord Clive receiving from the Nawab of Bengal" by Edward Penny

Edward Penny was a noted British artist of the 18th Century.  He was born in 1714 and died in 1791.  He painted military subjects and was known to be accurate in his details. The Seven Years' War comprised some of his subject matter.  While fighting raged in Europe and North America, the Seven Years’ War was also fought in India.  During the war, a young man named Robert Clive rose to command some of the Company’s troops and scored an important victory at Plassey.  Clive’s forces contained regular British soldiers, Englishmen who served the Company, and natives who served the Company. These last were known as Sepoys.

This painting is titled “Lord Clive receiving from the Nawab of Bengal a grant of money for disabled officers and soldiers.” Edward Penny also painted another canvas about high-ranking military leaders helping sick soldiers.  Read about it here:

Robert Clive stands in the center of the painting, with Mir Jafar, the Nawab of Bengal.  The strange looking knife in the Nawab’s sash is known as a katar (or kattary).  Clive returned to England in 1772, and Mir Jafar died in 1765, so this painting must be between 1757-1765. In other words, it is set during the era of the Seven Years’ War.  The uniforms of the East India Company in the Seven Years’ War are poorly recorded, so this painting may provide several important clues. 

The seated man in blue is an artilleryman of the British Royal Artillery (1).  The two soldiers standing in the back of the group are European infantry raised in Bengal (2).  By looking closely behind the artilleryman’s head, a sepoy’s head and turban can be made out.  His jacket is red and his turban is white with a blue center.  

With infantry, artillery, and sepoys in the painting, the last seated figure is likely to be a cavalryman.  The EIC did raise some units of European cavalry (3, 4).  Furthermore, his uniform is unlike any known British regular cavalry unit (5).  He appears to be wearing short gaiters over his shoes.  His coat is red, with red lapels and cuffs, and gold buttons, but no lace on the buttonholes.  His waistcoat is blue with gold lace edging the buttonholes.  His hat is black with gold trim.  It is quite possible that Edward Penny painted him to record the uniform of the Company’s European cavalry.

To the right of the group of soldiers is a European woman and three children.  They are likely the family of one of the soldiers.

(1)  Uniforms of the Seven Years War by John Mollo and Malcolm McGregor (Blandford: 1977) pgs. 92, 157-158
(4)  Armies of the East India Company 1750-1850 by Stuart Reid (Osprey: 2010) pg. 23

(5)  A History of the Uniforms of the British Army by C. C. P. Lawson (Kaye & Ward Ltd: 1971) pgs. 107-150, especially pg. 120

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