EDWARD LEAR (BRITISH, 1812-1888) Figures on the banks of the River Hoogly, Tollygunge, Calcutta

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Figures on the banks of the River Hoogly, Tollygunge, Calcutta
Pencil and watercolour on paper, heightened with touches of white
Inscribed ‘Tallygunje (sic)./Calcutta./1874’ (lower left)
Signed with monogram and further dated ‘1878’ lower right
Further inscribed ‘Tallygunje (sic), Calcutta’ on a fragment of the old mount attached to the backboard
Paper size: 9½ x 15¼ in
Framed size: 26 x 20 ¼ in
Provenance: Hartnoll & Eyre ltd (per letter on the verso, 1983).
Exhibited: The Fine Art Society Limited “The Travels of Edward Lear,” November 1983, No. 93.


Edward Lear’s tour of India and Ceylon (November 1873 - January 1875) came about through the agency of his friend and patron Lord Northbrook, who had been appointed Viceroy of India in 1871. He invited Lear to visit the country and, although the painter’s arrival was delayed for a year, he eventually arrived in Bombay on 22 November 1873. After leaving Lord Northbrook, Lear set off for Benares where he spent a number of days in mid December and on 31 December 1873 he recorded in his journal a sketching trip to Tollygunge:
‘The reflections in the water may, and should be, perfect, but were not so, because of disturbing washers. Remarked the beauty of white sheets, both in light and shadow; ... also, extreme featheriness of coconut palms; depths of brown gray shade ... and general misty grayness, more like English even than Nile scenes at early morning, owing to the profusion of vegetation ... General tone of the mosque and tank view deep, beautiful dark gray, relieved with vividly bright bits of light; a green tone throughout; even the mosque domes are rather greeny-brown. Endlessly beautiful
pictures of village life and Eastern vegetation.’ (R. Murphy (ed.), Edward Lear’s Indian Journal. Watercolours and extracts from the diary of E. Lear, 1873-1875, London, 1953, p. 52).
Tollygunge gained its name from a market or gunj on the eastern bank of the Tolly’s Nullah waterway. This canal, joining East Bengal and Calcutta, had been dredged in 1775-6 as part of a project overseen by Major William Tolly, to whom the British East India Company granted a licence to open the market. Tollygunge is today best known for its club, founded in 1895 on land which had originally been an indigo plantation, and then a park on the estate of the exiled family of Tipu Sultan, the late ruler of Mysore. It is also famous for being the home of Tollywood, one of the centres of the Bengali film industry, which has produced high-profile figures such as Satyajit Ray, the renowned director of the classic Pather Panchali.

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