Ghulam Ali Khan and his Patron: The Mughal Prince Fakhruddin
By Jeremiah P. Losty
Two important late Mughal pictures from the hand of Ghulam ‘Ali Khan, albeit probably with some studio assistance, have lately appeared on the art market. The subject of the first is a Mughal prince, identifiable from his portraits as Mirza Fakhruddin (1816-56), a younger son but favourite of the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah II known as Zafar (reg. 1838-58) seated with women and musicians in an Indianized version of a Victorian salon.
The second is a smaller equestrian portrait of the same prince accompanied by retainers in a landscape that intriguingly can be seen hanging above the chimneypiece in the main salon picture.
Ghulam ‘Ali Khan is one of the most intriguing of all Indian painters. During his long career (active 1817-52) he developed different styles suited to the taste and requirements of his patrons. He was the originator of the Delhi topographical school with his painting of the Divan-i Khas in the Delhi palace in 1817 that is still mostly in a Mughal tradition.
He was also the first Mughal artist to exploit the trend towards the picturesque in other paintings such as the shrine at Panipat and an exterior view of the Red Fort, both dated 1822, in which he places the Mughal buildings of Delhi in their‘picturesque’ surroundings, works presumably painted for a British clientele. Ghulam ‘Ali Khan’s poor command of figural drawing in these otherwise exquisite early architectural studies indicates that it is impossible for him to have been the major artist of the Fraser Albums as has often been suggested, especially since his earliest known portraits of Akbar II (reg. 1806-37) and his son Mirza Salim (1799-1836), both in ivory and now in the British Library, date from as late as 1827-28. These are his first known works done definitely for the Mughal court and the Persian inscriptions refer to him as ‘His Majesty’s painter’.
Mirza Fakhruddin entertained by musicians in a salon at the Zafar Mahal in Mehrauli. Attributed to the artist Ghulam ‘Ali Khan (active 1817-52) and assistants. Delhi, circa 1852, Opaque pigments heightened with gold and silver on paper, 45.2 by 57 cm. Image courtesy Brendan Lynch and Oliver Forge.