A Military Surveyor at work in Western India, watercolour c. 1840s


Bellasis, John Brownrigg [Major, 19th Bombay Infantry: a large unmounted watercolour on paper, 17½ x 13½ ins [44.5 x 34 cm]. A military officer is shown in the foreground using a telescopic surveying  instrument and there are several assistants with flagged marker poles. There is an indistinct and hard to read title at the bottom of the painting just beneath the surveyor’s feet and to the right of that are the artist’s usual signature initials JBB. As a Bombay Army officer most of the artist’s work was done in Western India, much of it around Ahmedabad, the ancient city which offered great variety for Bellasis’s penchant for Mughal and earlier architecture. Although the signature is not clear we are certain of the attribution as this painting came to us with a group of other paintings by Bellasis, a number of which are signed and titled and, in the case of a very few, dated. All these are on the same paper and usually of the same size. The paper used here is not of the highest quality but is in sound condition with just a little chipping and near the near the corners.  We have occasionally had a small sketch of a military surveyor but, although a vital part of military activity, his solitary life is seldom recorded in art.    mar17/2

Major John Brownrigg Bellasis [c. 1806- 1890] was commissioned into the East India Company’s Bombay Army in the 10th Native Infantry in 1822 and remained with that regiment for most of his career until becoming a lieutenant colonel when  he moved first to the 8th and then served in several regiments. He was on furlough during much of 1841 & 1842 and it is this period when he seems to have been painting most consistently. He came from a military family, his father, also John, being a major general commanding the Bombay Artillery around the time of his birth. The East India Register 1825 when John Brownrigg Bellasis was an ensign in the 10th shows Jonathan Hutchins Bellasis was a  captain in the same regiment, probably an elder brother, and Edward H. Bellasis was Private Secretary to the Governor.

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