2nd Madras Light Cavalry, painting of a Sowar, circa 1830


Second Madras Light Cavalry: a fine watercolour and gouache painting of a Sowar, circa by Yellapah of Vellore, circa 1830. This arresting and highly finished painting on paper measures 23.7 x 15.5 cm and is in excellent sound condition with just very minor loss at the corners and a faint central horizontal fold mark, mainly visible in the reverse.

The Sowar [cavalry trooper] wears the French grey jacket of most of the eight Madras Army light cavalry regiments of the time but the facings, described at the time as orange, show him to be a member of the second. The detailing of the uniform, belt buckle, sword, and pistol are painted with unusually accurate detail.

It was only after an album of this artist’s paintings appeared at auction in London in 2014 that art historians were able at last to put a name to this artist as it contained a signed self-portrait. The album included a page of six Madras soldiers painted on to the plain white paper without background. One of our illustrations shows that page as reproduced in the catalogue to this winter’s exhibition Forgotten Masters. Indian Painting for the East India Company [edited by William Dalrymple] at The Wallace Collection. London. The author of the section on Yellapah, Lucian Harris, notes that this is the only painting in the album which suggests it was painted for a military officer. The painting offered here is the same soldier but individually painted against a natural background of the scenery and architecture of the area. One wonders if the type of group portrait of six soldiers was used by the artist as a sort of catalogue of his work from which East India Company clients could select their requirements for the artist to create a more finished picture, On the whole a military officer would want a picture of a member of a regiment with which he had served.      jun12/4          SOLD 12th June 2020

Provenance: This painting came from the estate of the late W Y Carman [1909-2003], a curator at London’s Imperial War Museum and later Deputy Director of the National Army Museum and a prolific author on military history and especially uniform.

Literature: W. Y Carman: Indian Army Uniforms  –  Cavalry. Leonard Hill (Books) Ltd [London] 1961.

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