«ABSTRACT Title of Dissertation: TYRANT! TIPU SULTAN AND THE RECONCEPTION OF BRITISH IMPERIAL IDENTITY, 1780-1800 Michael Soracoe, Doctor of ...»
St. James’ Chronicle or the British Evening Post (London, England) 9 July 1793, Issue 5046 On their entrance into the pavilion, the young Princes sprang forward to the throne where their Royal Father sat, and prostrated themselves before it. And here the etiquette of Asiatic courts put nature completely to flight; for the father, instead of advancing to embrace his darling children, contented himself with coldly placing a hand on the neck of each; and on the instant the Prices arose, and respectfully retired. It is a remarkable fact, that not a syllable was exchanged at this extraordinary interview.119 Tipu was depicted as a cold and unloving parent, a portrait which contradicted his repeated requests not to give up his sons during the peace negotiations outside Seringapatam. While it is likely that this was due to cultural differences between British and European views of family relations, differences that Doveton was unable to perceive, the same depiction of Tipu as an uncaring parent appeared in much of the British artwork involving the hostage princes. More likely, accounts such as these were designed to contrast the stern and austere demeanor of Tipu to the warm and parental reception granted the young princes by Cornwallis.120 The Governor General was used again in this case as the counterpart to the Sultan.
The rest of Doveton's description portrayed Tipu as a powerful, wealthy, and alien Eastern monarch – in short, very much the Oriental despot. These hostile portrayals sought to reverse the situation and place blame for the captivity of the princes on Tipu himself, once again resorting to victimization theory and suggesting that only a cruel monster like the Sultan would send his children away without a care for reasons of state.
At the same time, the vengeful hostage-taking of Cornwallis could be reimagined as an London Packet or New Lloyd’s Evening Post (London, England) 12 January 1795, Issue 3965 See Constance McPhee. “Tipu Sultan of Mysore and British Medievalism in the Paintings of Mather Brown” in Orientalism Transposed. Dianne Sachko MacLeod and Julie F. Codell (1998) extension of the blessings of British culture and manners to the young princes, during the two full years that they were prevented from returning to their original home. The Tipu Legend of the savage Eastern tyrant could therefore provide justification even for Cornwallis' morally questionable act of taking children as hostages.
Due to the popularity of the subject matter, the Mysore Wars and Tipu Sultan attracted the attention of many of Britain’s most famous artists at home, who competed to produce their own renditions of the latest scenes of imperial glory from overseas. Until Tipu's final defeat in 1799, paintings of scenes featuring the hostage princes were by far the most popular subject matter to be produced regarding the Mysore Wars. Unlike earlier satirical cartoons that largely mocked the Company, the history paintings produced in London were unabashed celebrations of the Company’s conquests. The British public was captivated by many of these images, turning out in large numbers for public viewings, and eagerly sharing in the spectacle of empire. These visual arts went a long way towards changing popular opinion about the Company, and incorporating its servants into the patriotic fold of the British nation.
Formal “history paintings” were popular in the late eighteenth century, rendering scenes of national triumph available to a wider audience in an age without radio, television, or movies. Often of dubious authenticity to the events they depicted, these history paintings sanitized warfare to make it appear gentlemanly and non-violent. Battle paintings in particular focused on the valiant and the heroic; war was regarded as a glorious event, and painters created the sort of images that their patrons wished to see.121 The economics of creating this art were such that paintings would be commissioned Peter Harrington. British Artists and War: The Face of Battle in Paintings and Prints, 1700-1914 (London: Greenhill Books, 1993): 6-7 ahead of time, hopefully attracting a patron to support the expenses, and then shown to the public in the hopes of gaining subscriptions. Those who subscribed would receive engravings of the painting at a later date; virtually all of the history paintings about Tipu and the Mysore Wars functioned on this model, trying to sell to the wealthy classes.
Because most of these paintings gained the patronage of the East India Company, it is also not surprising that the artists avoided criticism and portrayed the Company heroically in their works. Nevertheless, the subscription model upon which these paintings were produced ensured that they were very much a public phenomenon, advertised in the newspapers and viewed in London by large audiences. Even these examples of “high art” intended for the upper classes would have been disseminated amongst a broad spectrum of the populace through prints, engravings, and other reproductions.
Competition was fierce to be the first artist to render on canvas a dramatic event from the exotic imperial locales. Artists who worked quickly were more likely to attract attention and gain more subscriptions for their paintings. For example, Mather Brown began advertising for subscriptions to his forthcoming historical paintings on 27 July 1792, a mere three days after news of the hostage princes situation arrived in London.122 Robert Home’s brother similarly began taking out advertisements in the London newspapers for subscriptions of Home’s paintings of the hostage princes, a scene which “had such an effect on the spectators, as to make them all shed tears” and was promised to be “uncommonly magnificent” when captured in oils.123 Neither Brown nor Home had produced the paintings in question when they began advertising for subscriptions, which Public Advertiser (London, England) 27 July 1792, Issue 18115 World (London, England) 27 September 1792, Issue 1793 again was common practice in the eighteenth century. Robert Home, Henry Singleton, and Mather Brown would all create paintings depicting the hostage princes in some way, helping to make the spectacle of the hostage princes one of the most memorable events of the Mysore Wars.
Robert Home was the only one of the formal history painters to be present at the actual ceremony in India where Cornwallis received the sons of Tipu Sultan, although his rendition of the scene would not be completed until 1794, and not exhibited in London until his return from India in 1797. Home had been invited specifically by Cornwallis to follow the progress of his army on campaign, and therefore it was no accident that he was present to record the dramatic scene of the hostage princes.124 His eventual portrayal of the event was entitled Lord Cornwallis Receiving Tipu Sahib’s Sons as Hostages and presents an excellent example of a staged spectacle of imperial triumph [Figure 2].125 Home captured all of the familiar elements of the story associated with the hostage princes, verifying the accuracy of the written accounts by including Cornwallis and the other military officers of the Company, Tipu’s vakils riding on elephants, and the two young princes in their white robes. The scene portrays an elegant Cornwallis kindly receiving the two sons of Tipu, the younger of whom holds out his hand for Cornwallis to grasp with a longing expression on his face. To the sides of the Governor General, the Company’s military officers form a sharp contrast in their red uniforms to the medievalappearing Indians with their spears, bucklers, and armor. In the background a British flag waves over the scene to remind the viewer of the triumph of the Company, as well as Hermione de Almeida and George Gilpin. Indian Renaissance: British Romantic Art and the Prospect of India (2005): 150-51 Robert Home. Lord Cornwallis Receiving Tipu Sahib’s Sons as Hostages at Seringapatam (1793-94).
National Army Museum, London.
further associate the Company with the British nation. Home was so proud of his role in capturing the scene that he placed himself in the painting, on the far left side clutching his sketchbook. Home’s rendition of the hostage princes would prove to be one of the least patronizing of the scene in question, but it still nonetheless was suffused with celebration of Cornwallis’ military victory and sanitization of the act of hostage-taking itself.
Although Robert Home may have been the sole eyewitness to the actual transfer of the hostage princes, he was far from the only artist to render the scene on canvas.
Henry Singleton was the first of the London painters to address the same subject matter, producing a companion pair of paintings which were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1793, and spread to a much larger audience through engravings done at the same time.
Singleton’s first painting was entitled Lord Cornwallis Receiving the Sons of Tipu Sultan as Hostages, portraying the same scene as Home but in a more intimate, smaller setting [Figure 3].126 Located inside the Governor General’s tent, Cornwallis appears as a wise and kindly figure, with arms outstretched on the verge of embracing the two young princes. The “lame vakil” and the other Indian attendants appear to be encouraging the princes to deliver themselves up to Cornwallis; the older boy looks up towards Cornwallis while the younger boy gazes out towards the audience with an adoring expression. In the background through the tent opening, the British flag once again proudly waves in the sky against the walls of Seringapatam.127 Singleton’s overall effect was to produce a tender scene overflowing with emotion, with the concerned and parental Cornwallis almost literally taking the young princes into his arms. British military victory Henry Singleton. Lord Cornwallis Receiving the Sons of Tipu Sultan as Hostages (1793). Private collection; sold at Sotheby’s, 23 November 1977.
Hermione de Almeida and George Gilpin. Indian Renaissance: British Romantic Art and the Prospect of India (2005): 149 and British paternalism in peace were on display together in this painting; Cornwallis embodied the British nation, a kindly but powerful father assuming charge of a childlike India.
Singleton’s companion work, The Sons of Tipu Sultan Leaving their Father, was designed to form a contrast between the conduct of Cornwallis and the conduct of Tipu Sultan towards the hostage princes [Figure 4].128 In a purely imagined scene for which there were no eyewitness descriptions, Singleton portrayed the departure of the two princes from their father. Tipu sits cross-legged on a throne, wearing very rich robes and an elaborate turban, staring off into the distance towards the flag of Mysore with an absent look on his face. All of the men appear in effeminate white robes with heavy jewelry, with the exception of the bored-looking soldier on the right side, there to escort away the two princes. Tipu appears oblivious to the presence of his two sons, who attempt in vain to catch their father’s eye before their dismissal. Together, these paired representations presented a clear message: “Cornwallis was a better soldier and father than Tipu, and what’s more, Cornwallis had might, manliness, and humanity on his side.”129 The two hostage princes served as a useful prop to demonstrate the superiority of the British character. Tipu Sultan, on the other hand, was inaccurately portrayed as a callous and uncaring father who was perfectly willing to sacrifice his own children for reasons of statecraft.
These themes would be elaborated upon and made further explicit in the paintings of Mather Brown, an American artist living in London who also produced a series of Henry Singleton. The Sons of Tipu Sultan Leaving their Father (1793). British Library, Office of Indian and Oriental Collections.
Hermione de Almeida and George Gilpin. Indian Renaissance: British Romantic Art and the Prospect of India (2005): 149 works with the hostage princes as their featured subject matter. Brown’s artwork was created with the full backing of the East India Company, with Henry Dundas of the Board of Control providing the needed funding along with additional information on all of the Company officers present to depict the scenes with maximum attention to military glory.130 Brown’s Marquis Cornwallis Receiving the Sons of Tippoo Sultaun as Hostages [Figure 5] included a brochure written by Daniel Orme, explaining to the audience how Cornwallis displayed to his captives “a generosity which would have done honour to the brightest hero of the classical pages of antiquity,” and that the hostage princes looked up to the Governor General “as their only protector, father and friend.”131 The visuals of the painting itself reflected the hyperbolic praise of the accompanying description, as Brown adopted a more imperialistic tone than the other artists in his portrayal of Cornwallis receiving the hostage princes. The young boys still look upon the Governor General with affection, but Cornwallis himself strikes a much more aggressive pose in Brown’s scene, striding confidently, almost bombastically forward towards the viewer. Cornwallis is accompanied by his staff in full military dress standing in front of the British flag, suggesting the might and power of the Company’s armed forces. The princes themselves appear several years older than their actual ages of five and eight, looking upwards with affection to the godlike Cornwallis as they clutch at his arms for support. To the left side of the painting, Indians appear in weak and servile positions, bowing and making themselves subservient to the radiant splendor of the Ibid, 149 Mather Brown. Marquis Cornwallis Receiving the Sons of Tippoo Sultaun as Hostages (1793). Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, County Dublin. Quote from Daniel Orme, included in Mildred Archer. India and British Portraiture, 1770-1825 (London: Sotheby Parke Bernet, 1979): 424 Governor General.132 The spectacle of the hostage princes was employed to celebrate British power and military achievement, while also suggesting that that power was tempered by compassion and benevolence. Brown’s rendition of this scene is an unabashed celebration of British power; the fawning weakness of a backwards India gives way to the splendor of a rising British star.