Lot 19
  • 19

A group of five seated men, an illustration from the Fraser Album, Company School, Delhi or Haryana, circa 1816-20

40,000 - 60,000 GBP
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  • watercolour and drawing on paper
  • 22.4 by 30.5cm.
watercolour on paper, each figure numbered above and identified in descriptive notes on separate sheet


Commissioned by William Fraser, c.1816-20.
In the collection of William Fraser (1784-1835) and James Fraser (1783-1856).
By direct descent to Malcolm R. Fraser, Esq.
Sotheby’s New York, 9 December 1980, lot 132.


M. Archer and T. Falk, India Revealed: the Art and Adventures of James and William Fraser 1801-35, London, 1989, p.113, no.101.


The figures in good condition with strong detailed colours, with a horizontal crease running from left hand, minor stain near lower edge, reverse with old pencil notes, corners with remnants from where attached. The document with inked name of figures slightly creased due to folds, as viewed.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

The figures are identified on the cover sheet, transcribed by E.S. Fraser (William and James's father) as follows:
1st figure. Khodadad Khan son of Meerza Bahram.
2d. Meerza Bahram, an Afghan born at Caubul, a horse merchant.
3d. Seyyeed Khan, a Dooraunee Patan, a merchant of Candahar.
4th. Nunmoo Lahoree, (or of Lahore) a trooper, and residing at Delhee.
5th. Moolah Seyed Oollah, a Dooraunee Patan, a horse merchant of Caubul.

This watercolour is from the celebrated series painted for William Fraser in India from 1815 onwards. William Fraser was the second son of Edward Fraser of Reelig, Inverness-shire, and like many Scots of the eighteenth and nineteenth century, travelled abroad to seek his fortune. He went to India in 1801 at the age of sixteen to take up a career in the political service of the East India Company. After training at Fort William College, Calcutta, where he discovered an amazing natural talent for languages, he was appointed as assistant to the British Resident at Delhi. The area around Delhi was still very unsettled following the Maratha Wars, and his work and travels provided a stimulating if somewhat dangerous life for William. In 1814 James Baillie Fraser followed his brother to India, intent on raising the family’s financial fortunes by joining a merchant house in Calcutta. They met up in 1815, by which time William had been posted as political agent to Major General Rollo Gillespie during the first Nepal War, and then continued as commissioner at Garwhal. They travelled together in the Himalayas and back to Delhi in August 1815, James returning to Calcutta in 1816. Under Jame's encouragement, William then commissioned a local artist to record the people and scenes that he came across in his work in and around Delhi, and sent a batch of forty such watercolours to James in Calcutta in 1819. William continued in his political and administrative duties in and around Delhi, where his reputation as an extremely effective agent and officer increased considerably over the following years. He was assassinated in 1835 at the instigation the young Nawab Shams al-Din of Firozpur, who was disgruntled following a complex legal case in which William had acted as arbiter. Following his death, a white marble tomb was built for William in the grounds of St. James’s Church, Delhi, paid for by his great friend and colleague Col. James Skinner.

When the Fraser brothers were forming their collection they were acquiring three different types of picture: original Mughal works, early nineteenth-century versions of seventeenth-century royal album pages, and Company School works painted by contemporary artists, including those William commissioned from Ghulam Ali Khan, Lallji and his personal artist now known as the Fraser Artist or the Fraser Master, which are the best-known and most important group of early-nineteenth century works of this type, and are the chief group associated with the brothers. The present work is of the latter category, attributed to the Fraser Master.

The paintings that had been sent back to Scotland or brought back when James returned remained in the Fraser family until 1979, when they were discovered, along with a wealth of documentation. For a thorough account of the brothers' lives and artistic interests see Archer and Falk 1989, see also Dalrymple and Sharma 2012. The majority of paintings from the Fraser Album were dispersed at three auctions at Sotheby's in 1980, two in London and one in New York.

Examples from this important series are now in a number of collections including the British Library, London, the British Museum, London, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, the David Collection, Copenhagen, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and the Art Institute of Chicago.