This portrait was done after an original oil painting attributed to Tilly Kettle dated 1784 which depicts Nathaniel Middleton with Asaf al-Dawla, Nawab of Oudh from 1775-1797 (Mildred Archer, India and British Portraiture 1770-1825, London 1979, no.52, p.95). That commemorates Middleton's assumption of charge as Resident of Lucknow. Although most of the composition is the same as this portrait, the face of Middleton has here been replaced with that of a later Resident of Lucknow, George Frederick Cherry, Resident between 1795 and circa 1797.
Tilly Kettle (1735-86) was a portrait painter and the first English artist to work in India. Born in London, he studied drawing with William Shipley in the Strand and first entered professional portraiture in the 1750s. He sailed to India in 1768 and left back to London in 1776. After Tilly Kettle's stint in Oudh from 1771 to 1773, it became the fashion for local artists to copy European portraits. This portrait, however, does not have the same unsophisticated treatment often exhibited in contemporaneous examples of work executed by local artists trying to emulate the European style. Additionally the original work by Tilly Kettle was painted in England when he had returned from India, probably from original studies of the Indian personages that were painted by him at Faizabad (confirmed by the slightly stiff composition), and it is unlikely that it would have made it back to India to facilitate this copy. The identification inscriptions beneath the figures also suggests a British attribution.
Strangely Cherry was murdered on 14 January 1799 by Wazir 'Ali, the reputed son of the late Nawab Asaf al-Dawla (C.E.Buckland, C.I.E., Dictionary of Indian Biography, New York, 1906, p.81), and it is reputed that the two did not get along. It is possible that this work is a sketch for a painting done to mark the occasion of Cherry's appointment much in the same way that Tilly's original marked Middleton's. In the light of subsequent events the composition is very ironic.