The present picture was almost certainly based on a drawing made in the early 1760s when Ward appears to have visited Bengal and Bihar. It was probably painted in London between 1764 and 1773, when he was practising as a professional artist and exhibiting regularly. It was then that he produced the ten oil paintings of Indian monuments that he presented to the East India Company and which are still in the India Office Library. This rare topographical view looking west depicts the centre of Calcutta shortly after the siege of 1756 and the subsequent recovery of the city. It shows the area between the Court House and Fort William, overlooking the Tank, before the construction of the Writer's Building in 1777. It also includes the Holwell Monument (centre) erected in 1760. Beyond the Tank, masts of several ships on the Hooghly are visible above the Fort. The Court House, then one of the city's most palatial and important buildings, remained in use until 1780, when the Council rented larger premises - the New Court House in Esplanade Row. Another painting by Ward showing a different view of the Old Court House, was engraved and published (see T. Daniell and F.S. Ward, Twenty four Views in Hindostan, London, 1802-5, and F.W. Blagdon, Ancient and Modern India, London, 1805).
Francis Swain Ward had a dual career, as a professional artist and as an officer in the East India Company's Madras Infantry regiment, serving mostly in south India. He served from 1757 until 1764 when he resigned and returned to London, and again from 1773 until his death at Negapatam in 1794. Since he painted landscapes of India throughout his life, he may be regarded as the first professional landscape artist in India, his work predating that of William Hodges, who is generally regarded as such, by about twenty years. For further information about this artist, see P. Rohatgi, Preface to a lost Collection - The Pioneering Art of Francis Swain Ward; and P. Rohatgi and P. Godrej, Under the Indian Sun, Marg Publications, Bombay, 1995.
We are grateful to Pauline Rohatgi for her help in preparing this catalogue entry.