Lot 60
  • 60

Twenty four preparatory paintings depicting the Battle of Pollilur, Seringapatam, Mysore, India, after 1780

650,000 - 800,000 GBP
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  • painting
Ink and gouache on rice-paper backed with cotton, modern varnish.


Tipu Sultan, Seringapatam until 1799

Acquired by Colonel John William Freese of the Madras Artillery following his appointment as commissary of stores at Seringapatam in 1802 

Thence by descent, 6th Earl of Lanesborough (grandson of Colonel Freese)

Swithland Hall Estate sale, 1978, Christie's on behalf of the 9th Earl of Lanesborough

Acquired by a UK Collector from the above

Acquired by the current owner from the above in 1981


In 1983 the paintings were on exhibition for six months at the Tower House, Kensington, home of Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin.

Tigers round the Throne, The Court of Tipu Sultan, Zamana Gallery, 2 August - 14 October 1990


Shamsuddin Agha, 'Tipu Sultan, The Tiger of Mysore', FMR, no.45, August 1990, pp.129-144.

Anne Buddle, Tigers round the Throne, The Court of Tipu Sultan, Zamana Gallery and The Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 1990, p.47.

Catalogue Note

Haydar Ali (1721-1782) and his son Tipu Sultan (1750-1799) came to power in South India in the 1760s by seizing the state of Mysore from the Wadeyars. By conquest they extended their territories and conducted four wars against the East India Company and British troops. In 1781, Haydar was killed by the forces of Sir Eyre Coote and was succeeded by Tipu. During his seventeen year rule Tipu not only achieved great military strength but was responsible for the transformation of the state of Mysore. His close allegiance with the French resulted in his introduction of European economic, industrial and farming methods to Seringapatam. Tipu built a network of new roads, formed a State Trading Company with ships and factories located across the Middle East and established sericulture, an industry that is still in existence today. Because of the sophistication of his empire and the location of Mysore, Tipu was seen by the British as one of their biggest threats to stability and expansion within India.

In 1780 'the most grievous disaster which has yet befallen the British arms in India' happened at Pollilur. British expansion and strategies in the Carnatic had antagonised Haydar, the Nizam, the French and the Marathas, and in July 1780, Haidar and Tipu invaded the Carnatic with nearly 100,000 men. Sir Hector Munro who was governor of the Company's army at the time elected to concentrate his forces at Conjeeveram (modern day Kanchipuram), 35 miles south-west of Madras. Lieutenant-Colonel Baillie who was based at Guntar was ordered by Munro to join him at Conjeeveram. However Baillie en route made a fateful stop at the River Kortalaiyar which flooded and delayed his crossing by ten days. On the 6th September, Baillie reached Perambakkam, 14 miles from Conjeeveram where he defended himself against a three-hour attack by Tipu. After a Council of War Munro then dispatched to Baillie 1,000 men and nine camels laden with ammunition under the supervision of Lieutenant-Colonel Fletcher, Lieutenant Lindsay and Captain Baird. On the 10th September as Baillie advanced across the plain towards Conjeeveram, Tipu opened fire at 300 yards from the left and then the whole of Haydar's cavalry descended on Baillie's men from the right. Baillie held his ground by forming his troops into 'The British Square', still confident that Munro would be coming to his assistance. The journals of Lindsay indicate that  'a shout of joy was spread throughout the line' at the sight of an approaching cloud of dust which was assumed to be Munro, 'it is impossible to describe the feelings of Baillie's devoted army, when they found that, instead of reaping a complete victory, they were surrounded upon all sides'. Fletcher was slain and Baillie and Baird were injured and imprisoned. Of the 86 European officers, 36 were killed or died of wounds, 34 were taken wounded, and only 16 taken unhurt. The whole of the sepoy forces were either killed, captured or dispersed, and only about 200 Europeans, most of them wounded, were taken alive by the enemy. Baillie died in captivity but Baird was released four years later and went on to defeat Tipu in 1799. (A. Buddle, The Tiger and The Thistle, The National Gallery of Scotland, 1999).

Following the battle Tipu commissioned a mural to commemorate his father's victory. This mural was installed in the Daria Daulat Palace, Seringapatam in 1784. The mural and our preparatory paintings depict Haydar and Tipu splendidly atired atop their elephants supported by their army, the French mercenaries under the command of Monsieur Lally and the Maratha troops. All are advancing towards 'The British Square' with Baillie seated in his palanquin looking rather perplexed with Fletcher and Baird on horseback to his left. In 1791 at the orders of Tipu the mural was overpainted due to theTreaty of Mysore, following the Third Mysore war, when Tipu was forced to surrender his two sons as hostages to deter him from further resistance. After the sack of Seringapatam the mural was restored by Colonel Wellesley and it is possible that our preparatory paintings were used as a reference to the original mural. The mural was later severely damaged before Lord Dalhousie, during his tour of Mysore in 1855, apparently commissioned an Indian artist who remembered the murals as they originally were to restore them (Dallapiccola 2010, p.23). However the re-painting was of an inferior quality to that of the original mural and our preparatory paintings, with several omissions and errors. The quality of our paintings relate to the Portrait of Tipu Sultan, circa 1790-1800 and a watercolour of one of Tipu's hunting cheetahs commissioned by Wellesley in 1799 and now in the Victoria & Albert Museum (see Tigers round the Throne, p.17 & 25).

Our preparatory paintings were probably originally part of two large scrolls approximately 7ft by 30ft and represent ¾ of the original cartoon. Originally attributed to post 1840 by their military costumes, the paintings have undergone extensive tests and further research indicating that the English military uniforms as they now appear are misleading and revealing the actual date of production is likely to have been in a period shortly after 1780 thus significantly pre-dating the mural in its current state at Daria Daulat.

Our cartoon came into the hands of Captain John William Freese in approximately 1802. Freese was a member of the Madras Artillery and played an important role in the siege of Seringapatam in 1799 and was praised in dispatches by General Harris. He was promoted to Captain in 1800 and in 1802 appointed by General Stuart as Commissary of Stores at Seringapatam. Freese's wife Eliza-Bizarre was General Stuart's daugher and was said to be particularly close to Arthur Wellesley the future Duke of Wellington. Wellesley was made godfather to her first son Arthur who unfortunately died in infancy (see Elizabeth Langford, Wellington, The Years of the Sword, London, 1969, pp.101-103, fig.9). A contemporary portrait of Mrs Freese was at Apsley House and is now at Stratfield Saye (the Duke of Wellington's country seat). John and Eliza Freese's daughter Letitia Rudyard Ross Freese married Captain Charles Augustus Butler-Danvers and bore a son John Vansittart Danvers Butler who went on to become the 6th Earl of Lanesborough. The cartoon then remained in the family for another 100 years until it was auctioned as part of the Swithland Estate in 1978. 

As well as this provenance there are eighteenth century notations within the scroll that make this cartoon not only artistically significant but also historically important. These inscriptions identify the key figures in the battle, some of whom have not been recorded before. As well as the names of 'Nowab Hyder Ali Bahadur', 'Tipu Sulthan', 'Colonel Bailie', 'Colonel Fletcher', 'Captain Baird' and 'Monsieur Lally' there are others that include 'General Syed Ghaffar', 'Priest Aukil Shah Khadry', 'Mohammad Drewan', 'Commandant Mohamad Ali', 'Sheik Anser', 'Shah Anwar', 'Ashad Baig Khan' who have not been previously identified in records of the battle. These glosses must have been written by someone who was either at the battle or had direct knowledge of the sequence of events. It is still to be determined who was the scribe but expert study of the hand-writing has raised the possibility that the hand could be that of Freese, but also bears a marked similarity to the hand of Wellesley himself.