The Delhi Durbar, meaning 'Court of Delhi', was a mass assembly to commemorate the coronation of the King or Queen of England. This occurred at Delhi, in 1877, 1903 and 1911, at the height of the British Empire's power. In 1877 it was called the 'Proclamation Durbar', and was held on the 1st of January to commemorate the coronation and proclamation of Queen Victoria as Empress of India. The 1877 Durbar was largely an official event attended by the 1st Earl of Lytton - Viceroy of India, maharajas, nawabs and intellectuals, and marked the culmination of the transfer of control of much of India from the British East India Company to the British Government. See fig. 1 for another contemporary depiction of the 1877 Durbar.
The Delhi topographical school of painting flourished from 1817 until considerably later than elsewhere in India. The leading artist was Mazhar 'Ali' Khan, who seems to have left India for Arabia in around 1850. Another important figure in the school was Ismail Khan, who embraced the medium of photography as an aid rather than a threat to his work and it is possible that the present drawing was executed after a contemporary photograph.
Arthur Hobhouse (1819-1904) who commissioned the present watercolour, began a five year term of service in 1872 as law member of the council of the Viceroy of India. On his departure for India, Hobhouse received 'strong hints that it would be desirable for him to slacken the pace of the legislative machine.' As a strong Liberal, Hobhouse found himself strongly opposed to several aspects of Disraeli's government's policy towards India, especially with respect to legal changes and Afganistan.