The subject of the present oil (the Feroz Shah Kotla) dates to Smith’s later years in India when garrison engineer at Delhi, and the dating indicates it was worked up in England (he retired from 28 years’ service in the Bengal Engineers in 1833), from sketches taken in Delhi in 1830. The fortress was built by Sultan Feroz Shah Tughlaq in the 14th century. Both the polished sandstone pillar which dates from the 3rd century and stands prominently atop the fortress, and the mosque (glimpsed to the right of the fortress in the picture), survive.
Smith transferred from the 44th Regiment to the Bengal Engineers at the outset of his career in India in 1805. He was present at the taking of Mauritius in 1810-11, and ADC to Sir George Nugent, the Commander-in-Chief in India. He became Superintending Engineer at Prince of Wales island (Penang) in 1814, returning there in 1818 and, an inveterate sketcher and painter throughout his career, produced the first graphic survey of the island (his views engraved by William Daniell in 1821). His engineering work in India included the design of buildings and the repair of various Indian monuments, including the great Qutb Minar and Jami Masjid Mosque in Delhi. There are Indian sketchbooks and drawings by Smith in the India Office Library and his illustrated diary, ‘A Pictorial of Travels in Hindustan from 1828-1833 by Captain Robert Smith, late H.M. 44th Regt’ is in the V & A Museum. Many of his field sketches were worked up into large oils, lively works punctuated with fine detail and colour – such as the present and following lot – which establish him as the leading topographical artist active in India in the 1820s and 1830s.