Colonel Antoine Louis Henri Polier (1741-95) was an adventurer working for first the French and then the English East India Companies. Of Swiss Protestant origin, he joined the English Company after the defeat of the French in southern India. In 1761 he became a Captain Lieutenant in the Company's Engineers. Although promoted to Major in 1767, he found further promotion blocked by the Company's ruling against officers of foreign extraction rising further in its service. Warren Hastings (Governor-General of Bengal, 1773-84) arranged for him to go to Oudh to work as engineer and architect to the Nawab Shujah-ud-Dowlah (1754-75) at the court in Faizabad. Driven from his post through the machinations of Hastings's enemies on the Council in Calcutta, Polier took refuge in the service of the Mughal emperor in Delhi, but was able to return to Oudh in 1780, after Hastings had regained control of his Council, to serve the new Nawab Asaf-ud-Dawla (1775-97) in Lucknow, the former capital of the province.
Polier commissioned two portraits of himself dressed in Mughal costume and enjoying the domestic felicity of a nabob. One of them is painting signed by Mihr Chand, now in the late Prince Sadruddin Agha Khan's collection, showing Polier seated on a sofa on a terrace and smoking a hookah while watching a nautch (fig. 1). This probably dates from Polier's first period of duty in Oudh 1773-5. The other, on which the present painting must be based, shows Polier seated on cushions in the veranda of what must have been his house in Lucknow, watching dancing girls and musicians. It was sold in these rooms, Arts of India 23 September 2005 lot 47.