FRASER, James Baillie (1783-1856). Twenty-four highly finished watercolours of views in Calcutta. With scratching-out and bodycolour. [Calcutta: 1819-20]
280 x 430mm each, presumably English paper (watermarks not visible), mounted on card with grey-wash ground. (Small defect to extreme lower right corner of drawings 5, 6 and 16, otherwise in very fine condition, the colours fresh and bright.) Bound and interleaved album (550 x 440mm), green half morocco gilt [by Charles Lewis], free endpapers watermarked J. Whatman 1829, marbled paper sides and endpapers, multiple fillets on corners and spine, lettering in two compartments, CALCUTTA/VIEWS//FRASER./ORIGL DRAWINGS; flyleaves and interleaves: full sheets watermarked "J. Whatman 1829". Provenance: Beriah Botfield, presumably bought from the artist, either directly or through the trade (not in his Payne & Foss acquisitions list).
THE COMPLETE SET OF ORIGINAL DRAWINGS, discovered only ten years ago, for the finest and most famous Anglo-Indian colour-plate book published in the late-Georgian period: Views of Calcutta and its environs, from drawings Executed by James B. Fraser, Esq. From Sketches made on the Spot. London: Printed for Rodwell and Martin [from part 4, March 1825 onwards: Printed for Smith, Elder, and Co.] 1824 [-1826] Havell and Co. Printers. The plates were engraved and aquatinted -- to actual size of the watercolour drawings -- by Robert Havell junior, Frederick Christian Lewis and Theodore Fielding, and issued both coloured and uncoloured in eight parts (see Michael Oliver, Travel in Aquatint and Lithography from the Library of J.R. Abbey II, 494).
Numerous sons of Scottish landowning families went to India in order to make their fortune in the service of the East India Company, and later the British Raj. Edward Satchwell Fraser (1751-1835), whose Inverness-shire estate, Reelick, was heavily mortgaged, sent all five of his sons to India, including the eldest James Baillie, who would inherit the family estate. All served with distinction in administration, as merchants or in the military, but none of James's brothers returned to Scotland. The Fraser family papers have survived and are listed by the National Register of Archives. The brothers' correspondence and James's diaries provide detailed information on daily, social, military, commercial and artistic life in India; the survival -- now dispersed -- of the collection of Indian miniatures formed by James and his brother William (1785-1835), and particularly of the "Company-School" drawings commissioned by them from native artists, paints a fascinating picture of their interest in exotic surroundings and their appreciation of the considerable ability of Indian artists, who often worked in family groups. The finest pictures in their archive were portraits, painted with wonderful psychological insight by one or more artists from the Delhi region, of individual types and groups of Gurkhas, Sikhs, Pathans, Mewatis and other tribes, who were recruited by William for his irregular force in the Nepal War (1814-1816) and later transferred to join the celebrated Yellow Boys of Skinner's Horse.
Soon after his arrival in India (1802) William had been appointed assistant to the resident at Delhi, Charles Seton, and subsequently served with Sir Charles Metcalfe. An able administrator, a brilliant linguist and proud of his cultural understanding of the country, he was first posted as political agent to General Rollo Gillespie, then to Major-General Martindell's army in 1815, serving most effectively both during and after the Nepal War. He was also a great hunter, shooting numerous tigers, both on horseback and on foot. In addition to his salary from the Company, William earned extra income purchasing and shipping goods, breeding and dealing in horses, and sent money home to his father, thus maintaining the Scottish estate in the possession of the family. Following a complex legal dispute arbitrated by William as commissioner for Delhi, he was killed in 1835 by a hired assassin for one of the litigants (the conspirators were both hanged). His close friend, the famous Anglo-Indian Colonel James Skinner, in whose corps Willam reached the rank of major and second-in-command, paid for a magnificent marble tomb, erected in his memory in the churchyard of St. James's, Delhi.
After a long and adventurous journey, James Fraser arrived in Calcutta in 1814. Having heard exciting accounts of William's activities in the Nepalese campaign, he decided to join his brother up-country, reaching Delhi in March 1815, where he stayed with the Resident and had an audience with the old Mughal Emperor, Akbar II. A fortnight later the brothers met again after 16 years, at the British camp of Blackhill above Nahan. It was then, with General Martindell's army, that James was seized by a passionate desire for drawing the peoples, scenery and objects surrounding him, which never left him during his seven years' stay in India. In May 1815 the brothers set off on a long tour of the lower Himalayas, accompanied by a motley detachment of irregulars from the Hill states, Gurkhas and Pathans from Afghanistan. The route through the mountains, whose scenery reminded the brothers of their native Scotland, was exhausting, but every evening James kept up his detailed diary and drew his great map of the uncharted regions through which they had travelled. They were published by Rodwell and Martin in London (1820), while James was still in India, as: Journal of a Tour through the Snowy Range of the Himala Mountains and to the Sources of the Rivers Jumna and Ganges. Despite his frustration with "my miserable want of proficiency in drawing in all its branches," he continually sketched the majestic countryside as they went, commenting how when "the Devil of Drawing broke loose, there was no holding him." The first views of the Himalayas had reached England through the sketches of Thomas and William Daniell in their Oriental Scenery 1795-1807 (Oliver/Abbey 420), but the area was mostly still undepicted. Back at Calcutta in 1816, James worked up his amateurish sketches into completed pictures. There he met the professional artist William Havell, whom he credited with his own rapid and successful progress. He sent the watercolours home to his father, asking him to arrange and oversee their publication. Views in the Himala Mountains was published by Rodwell and Martin in 1820; the engravers Robert Havell senior and junior, William Havell's uncle and cousin, probably made improvements to the Himalayan aquatints, but no comparison can be made as long as the original drawings remain unknown.
After William Havell's departure from Calcutta in February 1819, James began to take frequent lessons from George Chinnery (1774-1852) and turned to a new project, which he hoped might be profitable: a series of views of Calcutta. In the thirty years since the Daniells had drawn their views in Calcutta between 1786 and 1788, the city had undergone great architectural changes. "The Company's engineers were working in the classical tradition, modelling their buildings on pattern books such as Vitruvius Britannicus (1715) and Gibb's A Book of Architecture (1728). Built in brick and covered with plaster (chunam), the buildings were regularly whitewashed after every rainy season which, along with the blue sky and the green of the lush vegetation, gave the city an air of dazzling brightness. The river was busy with great East Indiamen and picturesque pleasure boats. The churches and the new Government House, influenced by the design of Kedleston, dominated the skyline" (M. Archer and T. Falk, infra p.50). James was able to render the quality of all this architecture in his pictures, as well as the various moods in the bazaars and on the river, the activities of the population and the omnipresence of birds, cattle, dogs and carriages. At the same time Chinnery and the Prinsep brothers were filling their sketchbooks and it is not difficult to see their influence. In May of 1820 James left Calcutta for good and it is likely that all twenty-four views he painted of the city were essentially finished by then.
James Fraser returned to Britain via Delhi (for an emotional final parting with his brother William), Bombay, Persia and Kurdistan (resulting in several books on the Middle East). The reunion with his parents took place at St Omer, Northern France, in January 1823. On reaching London, he at once approached Rodwell and Martin about publishing his views of Calcutta. It is not impossible that he put some finishing touches to his drawings at this point, but there is no evidence for it. After the appearance of the first nine plates in three parts, Smith Elder and Company took over the publication. In 1823 James married his cousin Jane Tytler and henceforth devoted himself to his Scottish estate, but continued to write. He carefully kept his Indian art collection and archive. His constant need for money will have led him to sell the Calcutta watercolours to Beriah Botfield, perhaps through his publishers.
"The watercolours in the Longleat Album are a revelation in that they contain all the qualities and sensitivities of the aquatints, and more. What is known of the production of the Himalayan series leaves room for suspicion that James's amateur watercolours had been transformed for publication by the inveterate skill of the engravers ... Hence there was no reason to discount the possibility of a similar process of professional improvement in the case of the Calcutta series. Yet, from these watercolours no hint of any improvement can be detected. The atmosphere of the clear Calcutta skies is there, the light on the buildings, and the reflections of the ships in the water. Indeed, numerous minor details have been overlooked in the aquatints, or have been excluded at the edge of the picture" (Toby Falk, infra p.118). In 1819 James had been pleased to hear from his father that some of his paintings had received great praise in Edinburgh, notably from J.M.W. Turner while on a visit there. By the time he finished his Calcutta watercolours, James Fraser had added great artistry to his natural talent, through the initial influence of Havell, continuing with his friendship with the highly critical Chinnery, and his own tireless application.
The following list of the watercolours is in album order, with the order of the published aquatints in parentheses. The titles are given as inscribed in pencil on the versos; where they differ substantively from the aquatint titles, this has been noted.
1. View of Serampore from the Park, Barrackpore (21)
2. View of the River with Calcutta and fort William from the Sulkhea side (20: A View of Calcutta from a point opposite to Kidderpore)
3. View of the shipping and town of Calcutta from a point near Smiths Dock (18)
4. View of the Botanic garden house and Garden reach (4)
5. A North Wester in the Hoogly, Calcutta (7: A View of the Opposite or Sulkhea Side, from the Respondentia Walk with a North-Wester coming on)
6. View in the Chitpore Bazar, Calcutta (24)
7. View of the St Johns Cathedral, Calcutta (19)
8. Front of Saint Andrews Church, Calcutta (12: A View of the Scotch Church from the Gate of Tank Square)
9. Chandpall Ghat, Calcutta (1)
10. View of the Loll Deggee and of writers buildings, Calcutta and the Scotch Church in the Distance (8: A View of Tank Square from the West)
11. Writers buildings, with the monument to those who perished in the Blackhole, from the west (6)
12. View of the Portuguese church, and of the Loll Bazar from the circular road, Calcutta (17)
13. View of Esplanade row from a point in the Chowringhee road (2)
14. View of Government house, Calcutta (9: A View of Government House, from the Court House Street, taken from the house of Johnson & Co.)
15. View of Esplanade Row from a point near Champall Ghaut (5)
16. View of the Court house, Calcutta (11: A View of the Town Hall)
17. View of the Loll Bazar, with the Palmers house, Calcutta (16)
18. Government house, and Gate from the East (3)
19. View of Court house street, Calcutta (14)
20. View of Calcutta from the Esplanade of Fort William (15)
21. View of the Scotch (St Andrews) Church and writers buildings, from the top of the Loll Bazar (13: View of St. Andrew's Church from Mission Row)
22. View of the Loll Diggee tank and Square, Calcutta (22)
23. View of the Black Pagoda, Chitpore road, Calcutta (23)
24. View of Barrackpore house (10)
J.P. Losty, Calcutta, City of Palaces. A Survey of the City in the Days of the East India Company, 1690-1858 (The British Library, 1990)
M. Archer and T. Falk, India Revealed: The Art and Adventures of James and Wiliam Fraser 1801-35 (Cassell, 1989)
Toby Falk, "From Watercolour to Print. James Baillie Fraser and his Views of Calcutta," in: Under the Indian Sun. British Landscape Artists, eds. P. Rohatgi and P. Godrej (Bombay: J.J. Bhabha for Marg Publications, 1995)