In these times of lockdown and social distancing, unable to visit friends and family, many of us have become used to keeping in touch in other novel ways. In somewhat of the same manner, digitised India Office Records shed light on a method in the 18th century by which families separated from each other by the vast distances of a growing empire kept in touch: the portrait miniature.
As the East India Company established its domains in India and increasing numbers of families were residing there for long periods of time, a demand grew for miniature portraits that could be easily sent back to loved ones in Britain.
To meet this demand required the skills and expertise of portrait painters in India to undertake commissions from those wealthy enough to afford them. These painters, like anyone else, had to be given permission to proceed to India by the Court of the East India Company. Two such painters were Diana Hill and George Carter.
On September 14, 1785, the Court ordered that George Carter be “permitted to proceed to India to practice as a Portrait Painter” and seven days later the same order was issued for Diana Hill.
Their passage to India took them to Bushire on the Persian coast where they required further clearance. A letter in 1786 from Rawson Hart Boddam, Robert Sparks, and Richard Church of the Public Department at Bombay Castle to Edward Galley, the Resident at Bushire, records that “Mr George Carter and Mrs Diana Hill Portrait Painters have our leave to proceed to India to practice their profession”.
With museums and galleries opening again we can appreciate at first hand the skills of such painters who helped families separated by thousands of miles keep in touch in the late 18th century.
This article first appeared on the British Library’s Untold Lives blog.
Respond to this article with a post
Share your perspective on this article with a post on ScrollStack, and send it to your followers.