Ozias Humphry R.A. (1742-1810)
This enchanting portrait records not only the open curiosity of the young prince but also the luxuriant surroundings of the Lucknow court. Richly dressed in an embroidered turban and robes, the child sits on striped silk cushions arranged in front of marble columns.
The child shown seated in Humphry’s portrait was the adopted son of Asaf-ud-Duala, Nawab Wazir of Oudh (d. 1797), painted here on the eve of his sixth birthday. Humphry, who on the whole was disenchanted by life in India, noted that the child was delightfully entertaining and polite; ‘he received me’ Humphry wrote, ‘with all the ceremony of the Shah Zada’. He was clearly well-educated despite his young age, Humphry also noting ‘The small child was already learning to write both Arabic and Persian.'
In Spring 1786, Humphry travelled from Calcutta to the Court of the Nawab of Oudh at Lucknow with letters of introduction from the Governor General, Sir John Macpherson. The present portrait is one of five miniatures of the Nawab and members of his court.
Humphry levied a charge of 47,000 rupees for the portraits, based on his current rate of earning in Lucknow and also by doubling the sum (a practice Humphry had heard was usual when dealing with Nawabs). When, after seven months, Humphry left the Lucknow court he was only given 5,000 rupees by the Nawab, the rest being promised on bond. When the money was not forthcoming, Humphry referred to correspondence from Macpherson, which Humphry felt had indicated that the governor would pay. When Macpherson refused to settle the remainder of the bill, Humphry brought as unsuccessful civil action against him. He only ever recovered a few hundred pounds from his work, pursuing the debt until the end of his days.
This enchanting portrait records not only the open curiosity of the young prince but also the luxuriant surroundings of the Lucknow court. Richly dressed in an embroidered turban and robes, the child sits on striped silk cushions arranged in front of marble columns. As Asaf-ud-Duala had no sons of his own, he adopted a boy from a poor Muslim family. At thirteen Vizir Ali was married in a ceremony which cost £300,000 and at the age of seventeen he became the Nawab, supported by the British. Within months he was deemed untrustworthy and was replaced by the British with his uncle. Vizir raised a rebellious army and after an unsuccessful uprising was granted asylum by Raja of Jaipur. Finally held by the British, who became increasingly nervous at his rebellious activity, he died in confinement at Fort William Calcutta in 1817.
Another version of the present portrait, also dated 1786, was in the collection of the Late Mrs T.S. Eliot [sold Christie’s, London, November 2013, lot 143, realised £56,250]. Although it is not clear which version is the primary, the present work is sketchier and more immediate, with the prince looking directly out at the artist. This miniature must have remained in Humphry’s possession until his death, at which point it was inherited by his son.
 The little prince’s adoptive father, Nawab Wazir of Oudh, had already been painted by the renowned German artist Johann Zoffany (1733-1810) in 1784 [India Office Library, see M. Archer 1979, no.89, p.147], and clearly had a taste for portraits from European artists.
 This sorry tale is outlined in M. Archer, India and British Portraiture 1770-1825, p. 191. Archer believes it was clear that Macpherson was only introducing Humphry to the court and not commissioning the series of portraits for himself.
 M. Archer, India and British Portraiture 1770-1825, London, 1979, p. 194