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Zoomable Image of Portrait of a Gentleman, traditionally identified as Captain Bryce, mid-1760s

Portrait of a Gentleman, traditionally identified as Captain Bryce, mid-1760s

Tilly Kettle (1735-86)

Portrait of a Gentleman, traditionally identified as Captain Bryce, mid-1760s

Tilly Kettle (1735-86)

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Price:

Price on request

Materials:

Oil on canvas

Dimensions:

36 x 30 in (91.5 x 76.2 cm)

Provenance:

Knoedler & Co., London, 1931; Newhouse Galleries, New York; Private collection, USA

Tilly Kettle was the first Western artist to establish a portrait practice in India...

Since the early twentieth century the subject of this portrait has been identified as a ‘Captain Bryce’, although specific details regarding his identity remain unknown. His identification is made more problematic by the fact he is shown wearing civilian not military attire, which although is not uncommon for Kettle[1], certainly makes the process more difficult. We do know that there were two Captain Brices serving in the London regiment, 7th Regiment of Foot or Royal Fusiliers, who could have commissioned Kettle before his journey to India. Edward Brice Dobbs was made a captain on 26th May 1759 and Arthur Hill Brice was made a captain on 13th February 1762.

Tilly Kettle was the first Western artist to establish a portrait practice in India. Arriving at Madras in 1769, he found a ready market amongst the leading figures of the ascendant British Raj. His Reynolds-esque manner was the very latest style, and immediately proved popular amongst his fellow expatriates. After two years in Madras, Kettle travelled north to Calcutta, the effective capital of British India, and the administrative seat of the East India Company. There he painted many leading Raj figures, including at least three portraits of the Governor-General, Warren Hastings. Kettle’s status as a western artist earnt him the patronage of local Indian rulers, and, while at Faizabad, he was employed by the Nawab of Oudh. He also painted scenes of Indian daily life and ritual, some of which portrayed the more harrowing aspects of Hindu culture, such as the practice of Suttee, in which a widow burns herself to death on her husband’s funeral pyre. Some of these works can be found in the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi. Kettle evidently settled in well to Indian life - he took an Indian mistress, for example, by whom he had two children, Ann and Elizabeth.

When Kettle eventually returned to England in 1776, he had earned a considerable fortune, and it was his success in India that encouraged other artists of merit - from Zoffany to Chinnery - to undertake the same long voyage. However, Kettle was not able to sustain the busy portrait practice in England that he had enjoyed in India. Although he began to show works at the Royal Academy, which were apparently well received, he had difficulty adapting to his new position as a relatively unknown artist amongst fierce competition.

In 1786 Kettle decided to return to India, this time travelling over land. However, he never reached his second home and is thought to have died en route, perhaps in present-day Basra. His work can today be found in institutions such as the Tate Gallery, the Courtauld Collection and the Dulwich Picture Gallery.


[1] See for example Kettle’s double portrait of Charles and Captain John Sealy [Courtauld Gallery] which illustrates the naval captain in a light grey civilian suit.

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