Colonel Robert Smith (1787-1873)
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Colonel Robert Smith (1787-1873)

Crossing the River Son with the Hill Fort at Rhotasgarh, Shahabad District

Colonel Robert Smith (1787-1873)
Crossing the River Son with the Hill Fort at Rhotasgarh, Shahabad District
signed and inscribed 'R.Smith/delt' (lower right) and with inscription 'Hillfort of Rotasghur on the river Soane' (by Barton on a fragment of the album page, attached to the present mount, overmounted)
pencil and watercolour, heightened with white, watermark, 'BUDGEN AND WILMOTT/1809'
13 3/8 x 20 3/8 in. (34 x 51.7 cm.)
Thomas Longcroft by whom given to
Nawab Sa'adat' Ali of Oudh by whom given to
Ezekiel Barton.
with Spink, London, March 1979, where purchased for the present collection.
R. Head, 'From Obsession to Obscurity', Country Life, 21 May 1981, p. 1432, fig. 1, illustrated.
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Lot Essay

This watercolour is by Colonel Robert Smith, of the Bengal Engineers, a talented artist, architect and engineer, who in previous literature on the subject has been confused and conflated with Captain Robert Smith (1792-1882) of Her Majesty's 44th Regiment of Foot.

Mildred Archer in her article on Smith 'An artist engineer-Colonel Robert Smith in India (1805-1830)' The Connoisseur, February 1972, pp. 79-88, says of Smith that he 'was an outstanding member of this talented hierarchy ... a most capable engineer in the professional sense but a man who relished India' and of his work in oil that 'he achieves a standard hardly second to that of any other British landscape painter working in India during the 1820s'.

Smith served in India from 1805-1830, in the Bengal Engineers. Ranked as a Lieutenant in 1807 he swiftly rose through the ranks being appointed Lieutnant-Colonel in 1830 and appointed an honorary Colonel in 1854. In 1810 he was field engineer with the Bengal Division at Calcutta and, after taking part in the capture of Mauritius in 1810-1811, he became Aide de Camp to Sir George Nugent, the Commander-in-Chief in India. Between 1813 and 1814 he was employed in surveying on the Mirzapore South frontier.

In 1814 he was appointed as Superintending Engineer on Prince of Wales Island (Penang), where he executed sketches which William Daniell used as the basis for his ten Views in Prince of Wales Island, London, 1821. After his return to India he was appointed Garrison Engineer at Delhi and was involved in designing a number of buildings, R. Head, op. cit. suggests that along with St. James's Church, Delhi private houses such as those of Metcalf and Skinner may also be attributed to him, he also assisted in the reparations of the Mughal Monuments including the Qutb Minar and the Jami Masjid at Delhi. He left India in November 1830 and retired to Redcliffe Towers, Paignton, a house designed by himself, with Indian additions and in 1858 he built a second house in Nice, known as the Château des Anglais.

Lady Nugent was a great admirer of his drawings and notes in her journal 'Received a present of drawing from Mr Smith, an engineer A.D.C. He draws beautifully, and his sketches are all so correct, that I know every place immediately'.

Raymond Head, op.cit., suggests that the present watercolour was executed circa 1814 while Smith was employed in surveying the region and probably worked up from sketches made on the spot. Trained in the topographical tradition, he nevertheless introduced jewel-like incidental details into his watercolours and delighted in the bustling groups of figures and elephants, highlighted by bursts of bright colours.

The Hill Fort at Rohtasgarh was taken from its former Hindu rulers by Sher Shah Sur in 1539. Subsequently utilised by the Mughals, it came into the British possession in 1764 and was drawn a number of times by the Daniells during their tour.

For other works by the artist please see lots 25, 27, 28, 82 and 85.

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