Charles Hampden Turner (1772-1856) was a businessman, collector and horticulturalist who bought the Rooks Nest estate near Godstone, Surrey, in 1817 and commissioned or purchased ‘at least thirty-one oils by Thomas and William’, becoming, according to Shellim, the Daniells’ most important patron. Turner presumably bought the present picture off the wall of the Royal Academy exhibition in 1807. The fate of Turner’s collection of Thomas Daniell’s pictures was recorded by Shellim: ‘In January 1928 Charles Hampden Turner’s great-great grandson, C. H. Turner, sold the Rooksnest [sic] collection. The auction was held at Rooksnest and conducted by Foster & Co. … of 54 Pall Mall, London, S.W.1. … Thomas Sutton who was a partner in the gallery, Chaundy & Company, bought the whole collection and sold twenty-one pictures to Maharajadhiraja Bijoy Chand of Burdwan (1885-1941). … although the major part of the Burdwan collection remained in England, a few, including seven presented to the Victoria Memorial, later went to India.’ (M. Shellim, op. cit., p.23). The present picture was not listed in the Rook’s Nest sale catalogue but is one of the five works in Shellim’s Appendix VIII of ‘pictures not listed in the ‘Rooksnest’ Sale Catalogue … said to have come from the Charles Hampden Turner Collection.’ (M. Shellim, op. cit., p.135).
This monumental painting of the gate of Serai is the only known and surviving oil resulting from the Daniells’ visit to Chandpur, Uttar Pradesh, in March 1789, on the first of their three great tours in India. After their visits to Agra in January 1789 and Delhi in February, which would result in some of their most striking images of Indian and ‘Mahommedan architecture’, ancient and modern (the Taj Mahal and tombs at Agra, the Observatory and Cittub Minar at Delhi), the Daniells headed towards the Himalayas, reaching the British cantonment of Anuphshar on 10 March 1789. They were accompanied by a more formal armed escort from here, with 40 Sepoys and four British officers, under the command of Colonel Brisco, for their trek into the Garwhal Hills. They would be the first Europeans to enter the territory.
'Travelling at a normal pace of fourteen miles a day, they had the opportunity of closely observing the natural scenery, the cultivation of the land (‘A most beautiful Country well cultivated almost the whole Way.’), and the fine views of the ‘Black and White Mountains’. … On their march to Chandpur they saw a great number of peacocks in the jungles. And the party shot several, but were prevented from collecting them by the thickness of the foliage. ‘The view of the distant mountains was very striking, especially at sunrise, when their broad bosoms, catching the level rays, cast them with subdued splendour over the neighbouring plains.’ Thomas did a sketch of them [Victoria Memorial, Calcutta] … which may have formed the basis for plate 10 of Daniell and Ward, and for his oil-painting included in the Madras lottery. At Chandpore itself Thomas also did the Gate of Serai (R.A., 1807, possibly identical with the one owned by Turner and now in the Burdwan Collection), and [the watercolours] Near Chandpoor, and Chandpore [Victoria Memorial, Calcutta].'
T. Sutton, op. cit., p.45.
After halting at Chandpur, where they had letters of introduction to the chief of the district, who pressed them to stay, and afforded them ‘an opportunity of witnessing a somewhat novel mode of catching the tiger’, they set off into the mountains to Hurdwar and then on to Srinagar, reached on 27 April 1789, the westernmost point of their Northern Indian journey. Disputes here among the local Rajahs forced them to turn back, William Daniell writing in his journal ‘war, which is the scourge of art and science, rendered the further gratification of our curiosity in these parts dangerous.’
The British audience took to Thomas Daniell’s Indian imagery just as they had responded to William Hodges’s first views of the South Pacific exhibited at the Royal Academy after his return from Cook’s second voyage. Thomas Daniell’s regular exhibits at the Royal Academy led to his election as a Royal Academician in 1799. He was patronised by Lord Egremont at Petworth the following year and engaged by Thomas Hope to paint Composite View of Hindoo and Moorish Architecture for Hope's Indian Room at his Duchess Street mansion in London. His oil paintings of Indian architectural subjects exhibited at the Royal Academy, just such as the present picture exhibited in 1807, were foremost in making and spreading this taste among cultured circles in England. Thomas Daniell’s most enduring influence back home, over and above the craze that ran through the decorative arts – the wallpapers, Staffordshire pottery and gardens – would be in architecture leading up to and throughout the Regency period and beyond:
'More important than Hope’s decorative experiments, however, were British buildings influenced by Indian architecture. In 1800 Daniell himself designed a Hindu garden temple for Melchet Park, Hampshire, and in 1805 a retired nabob, Sir Charles Cockerell, commissioned a house at Sezincote in the Cotswolds and desired it to be ‘Indian’ in style. To this end the architect, his brother Samuel Pepys Cockerell, examined the work of Thomas. Humphry Repton, who was planning the garden, also consulted him. Thomas designed ‘Indian’ farm buildings, a garden temple, bridge and fountain. Although Repton’s plans were not in fact adopted, Daniell’s influence on work in Brighton can be detected in Porden’s Royal Stables and Riding School and in John Nash’s Pavilion. Indian motifs appear yet again in George Dance’s designs for Stratton Park, Norman Court, Coleorton and Ashburnham. There can be little doubt that for a period of thirty years, from 1800 to 1830, Thomas Daniell was regarded as an unrivalled authority on Indian architecture, and most experiments in Indo-British architecture were based on his work. Although much detailed architectural knowledge was derived from drawings and engravings, it was his regular exhibition of oils of India at the Royal Academy that firmly established him as the arbiter in England of what was truly Indian.'
M. Archer, in M. Shellim, op. cit., Foreword, pp.8-9.