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    Sale 5429

    Travel, Science & Natural History

    24 September 2008, London, South Kensington

  • Lot 181

    Sir William Beechey, R.A. (1753-1839)

    Portrait of Warren Hastings, seated at a writing table with his left hand on a letter signed with his name

    Price Realised  

    Sir William Beechey, R.A. (1753-1839)
    Portrait of Warren Hastings, seated at a writing table with his left hand on a letter signed with his name
    signed 'WB.' (lower right)
    oil on canvas
    30 x 25in. (76.2 x 63.5cm.)
    with another portrait of Warren Hastings, by a different hand, oil on canvas, unframed (2)


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    Warren Hastings (1732-1818) was undoubtedly one of the most important figures in 18th-century Anglo-Indian history and can be largely credited with laying the foundations of British supremacy in India. His career began in the service of the East India Company in 1749. He was a well-educated man of scholarly tastes. By 1773 he had risen to become the first Governor-General of Bengal which, as the richest and most powerful of the Indian States, gave him significant influence across the whole of the subcontinent. Within a few years, allegations of malpractice, military aggression and financial difficulty were levelled at him, leading to state intervention in the 1780s and to personal attacks on Hastings. In spite of all the recriminations about him, Hastings was one of the few who placed national interests, both British and Indian, above personal gain. He succeeded in setting up administrative machinery that was to endure. He was not only a fair-minded, if at times stern, governor, but also a highly able financier who within a few years managed to turn around the ailing finances of the Company and greatly increase the revenues returned to London. Unfortunately, he did not endear himself to his contemporaries. Hastings's leading opponent in India was Philip Frances, his deputy and successor, who with Edmund Burke, the eminent statesman, managed to turn public opinion against him. In 1787 Burke had Hastings impeached on twelve charges of embezzlement, fraud, abuse of power and cruelty. Hastings was recalled to London and put on trial. The trial lasted seven years with only Burke willing it to continue. By the end, public and legal opinion had turned in Hastings's favour and he was finally exonerated of all charges. He never returned to India.

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