Arts of the Islamic World and India

Arts of the Islamic World and India

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 134. The Agra Fort from the North, by Sita Ram, commissioned by the Marquess and Marchioness of Hastings, India, Agra, Fatehgarh and Barrackpore, 1815.

The Agra Fort from the North, by Sita Ram, commissioned by the Marquess and Marchioness of Hastings, India, Agra, Fatehgarh and Barrackpore, 1815

Auction Closed

April 24, 03:45 PM GMT


30,000 - 50,000 GBP

Lot Details


watercolour on paper watermarked 1807, laid down on a sheet watermarked 1811, inscribed in brown ink in lower border 'Agra from the North and near the Taj'

painting: 39.7 by 57.1cm.

sheet: 46.8 by 66cm.

The Earl of Moira, later The Marquess of Hastings (1754-1826), Governor-General of Bengal, and Lady Hastings (1780-1840), India and England

By descent in 1840 to their daughter Sophia Frederica Christina Rawdon-Hastings (1809-59), who married in 1845 John Crichton-Stuart, 2nd Marquess of Bute, Mount Stuart House, Isle of Bute, Scotland

By descent in the family of the Marquess of Bute at Mount Stuart House, Isle of Bute, Scotland, 1845-1974

Sotheby’s, London, Fine Oriental Miniatures and Manuscripts, 9 July 1974, lot 263 (no.16)

Leonard and Margaret Shengold

This depiction of the Agra Fort from the North, with the Taj Mahal in the distance was painted by the Bengali artist Sita Ram in 1815. It is from a set of highly important albums prepared for the Marquess and Marchioness of Hastings between 1814 and 1817. The Marquess of Hastings, who until 1816 was known as the Earl of Moira, arrived in India with his wife the Countess of Moira, in 1813 to take up his post of governor-general of Bengal. Within a year he embarked on a long tour from Barrackpore near Calcutta to the foothills of the Himalayas north of Delhi, and back again via Agra to Calcutta. He was accompanied by his wife and children. The purpose of the tour was to inspect British possessions and to meet the Indian rulers and viziers of the cities and states along the way. The whole tour lasted fifteen months and took the party past many famous architectural sites along the way.


Lord Hastings employed the artist Sita Ram to accompany them during the whole journey in order to record the scenes, landscapes and architecture they encountered during their tour, resulting in an extraordinary pictorial record of northeast India in 1814-15. Lord Hastings also kept a detailed journal throughout the tour, providing a written record that aligns with the watercolours. Lord Hastings’ journal entries between 23rd-25th February 1815 describe his visits to the Agra Fort (Losty 2015, pp.207-18).


During the return journey to Barrackpore the party halted in Fatehgarh near Farrukhabad, where they stayed for four months from April to August 1815 during the hot season and beginning of the monsoon. During this sojourn Sita Ram worked up many of his paintings into the finished works and pasted them onto the backing papers prior to binding them into albums (Losty 2015, p.23). The party arrived back in Barrackpore on 9 October 1815. The paintings were completed, and the albums were assembled by early 1817 (Losty 2015, p.23). In all there were two hundred and twenty-nine finished watercolours, all completed in approximately two and a half years, half of which was spent travelling – an astonishing achievement of the artist’s skill and productivity. The paintings were mounted into ten albums, each containing twenty-three pictures, except for the tenth album, which contained twenty-two (Losty 2015, pp.247-9). The present watercolour is from volume IX, 'Views by Seeta Ram from Secundra to Agra'.


The albums were brought back to Britain by the Marquess and Marchioness of Hastings in 1823, but disappeared from sight for a hundred and fifty years. In 1974 two albums from the set of ten were sold at Sotheby’s in London (Sotheby’s, Fine Oriental Miniatures and Manuscripts, 9 July 1974, lots 263 and 264). Volume IX was lot 263 in the sale and the present painting was no.16 in the album. In 1995 the British Library acquired the remaining eight albums containing a hundred and eighty-three paintings. This acquisition and the information gained from the 1974 auction allowed the history of the albums and the provenance of the intervening hundred and fifty years to be fully understood. Individual works from the albums have appeared in various publications and exhibitions since 1974 and in 2015 Jeremiah Losty produced a detailed study of the albums along with a transcription of Lord Hastings’ journal and copious notes (Losty 2015; see also Losty 2019).


The ten albums and Lord Hasting’s journal were bequeathed to their daughter Sophia Frederica Christina Rawdon-Hastings (1809-59), who was only six years old during the tour of 1814-15. In 1845 Sophia married John Crichton-Stuart, 2nd Marquess of Bute, whose family seat was Mount Stuart House on the Isle of Bute in Scotland. The albums stayed together at Mount Stuart House with the Bute family until 1974, when two albums were consigned to auction. The other eight albums remained at Mount Stuart House until 1995, when they were acquired by the British Library. Examples from the two dispersed albums are now in the following museums: San Diego Museum of Art; Harvard University Art Museums; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA. For a full listing of the dispersed paintings see Losty 2015, p.247, Album 1, and p.249, Album 9.


Sita Ram is known chiefly from the large number of paintings he produced for Lord and Lady Hastings between 1814 and 1823. He probably trained at Murshidabad in the late eighteenth century at a time when artists were adapting from traditional methods of Indian miniature painting to western styles favoured by their new European patrons. In 1805 Sita Ram was in Calcutta and Barrackpore, where he painted an album of botanical studies (Losty 2019, p.173). He may also have been employed producing official architectural and engineering plans in Calcutta. After completing the paintings of the 1814-15 tour, Sita Ram continued to work for the Hastings, producing an album of scenes of northern Bengal in 1817 and of Rajmahal in 1820, as well as a volume of natural history paintings around 1820. Losty described Sita Ram as “a major artist of the period, who far transcends the limitations of most other Company School artists by combining the manner of the English picturesque with his own Indian perceptions” and commented on his technical brilliance, truly outstanding details and brilliant handling (2015, pp.10, 21-22). He may have seen the work of English artists working in India at that time, such as William Hodges, Thomas and William Daniell and George Chinnery, “but Sita Ram had little time for their monotonously dull and dark overall tonality, instead revelling in the brilliant light of India, which he enlivens with glorious splashes of full colour.” (Losty 2019, pp.175-6). A portrait of Sita Ram by an anonymous Calcutta artist survives, showing him sitting at a desk in the act of painting a river view (Losty 2015, fig.2, p.10).

A view of 'The Taj Mahal by moonlight' by Sita Ram from the same album, formerly in the collection of Edith & Stuart Cary Welch, sold in these Rooms, 25 October 2023, lot 56.