Auctions | September 1, 2022

Mexico, Macau & India at Bonhams’ Travel & Exploration Sale

Courtesy of Bonhams

A first edition, second issue of Select Views in India by William Hodges. Estimate: £15,000-20,000

London – The mysterious and violent death of the English landscape painter Daniel Egerton in a Mexican village in 1842 – the body of his 19-year-old eight-month pregnant mistress Alice by his side – was as scandal ridden as his life. There was no shortage of possible culprits.  Opportunistic thieves (though no valuables seem to have been taken); victims of a fraudulent land scheme in which he was allegedly involved; a jealous ex-lover of Alice or even members of the local Masonic Lodge.  A painting by the artist, Portrait of a ranchero and his horse, Mexico to be offered in Bonhams Travel and Exploration Sale in London on Tuesday 20 September, provides a reminder of Egerton’s gentler side and of his great talent. The work is estimated at £25,000-35,000.

Rhyanon Demery, Head of Picture sales at Bonhams Knightsbridge, said: “Portrait of a ranchero and his horse, Mexico was painted in 1833 during Egerton’s first, five-year, working trip to the country. This depiction of the landsman in traditional costume speaks of his deep and affectionate understanding of Mexico, its history, traditions and landscape with the two famous – and to the Aztecs sacred – volcanos, Iztaccihuatl and Popocatepetl, clearly visible in the distance. For most of his career, Egerton drew his inspiration from landscapes; this rare and charming departure into portraiture is a tribute to the depth of his talent.”

Other highlights of the sale, which consists of 187 lots, include:

  • Portrait of five Labrador Inuit with Catherine Cartwright at Marnham, British School late 18th century.  This rare portrait dated 1772 depicts five Labrador Inuit – Attuiock, his young wife Ickongoque and their young daughter Ickeuna, together with Attuiock's youngest brother Tooklavinia and his wife Caubvick – who travelled to the UK in October 1772 with their friend the English army officer and trader, Captain George Cartwright. After a stay in London, where the family was the talk of the town, they spent time at Cartwright’s family home in Nottinghamshire. It was there that this charming watercolour annotated with the sitters’ names was executed. Catherine Cartwright – sister of George – recorded a sensitive and insightful description of the family and its visit in her diary. Estimate: £3,000-5,000.    
  • A Chinese blacksmith's stall, Macau by George Chinnery (1774-1852). Born in London, Chinnery travelled widely in India before settling in Macau in 1825.  He made the island his home until his death in 1852 and became fascinated by the artistic possibilities of the Macau shoreline and the local tradespeople going about their everyday lives. Blacksmiths and their work were favourite subjects, and this example is estimated at £20,000-30,000. The Tanka people – a distinct and ancient ethnic group who lived along the shore of Macau – also occupied a special place in Chinnery’s art. He took particular delight in depicting Tanka women with their characteristic dress of blue nankeen, either with a hood attached or sometimes worn with a red headscarf as in Tanka boatwoman which is offered in the sale with an estimate of £15,000-20,000.

As usual the sale is rich in works associated with India among which are:

  • A first edition of Views of Calcutta and its Environs, from Drawings... from Sketches Made on the Spot. The volume consists of 24 hand-coloured aquatint plates based on the work of the travel writer and artist James Bailie Fraser. Fraser came from a Scottish landowning family which fell on hard times thanks to poor investments in a sugar plantation in Berbice, Guiana. To repair the family fortunes, his brother William went to India in 1801. He was soon followed by all four of his brothers, but James was the only one to survive and return home. (William took enthusiastically to life in India, fathered several illegitimate children but came to a sticky end when he was murdered by an assassin hired by the Nawab of Firozpur). Estimate: £20,000-30,000.
  • A first edition of Select Views in India, drawn on the Spot, in the Years 1780, 1781, 1782, and 1783, and Executed in Aqua Tinta by William Hodges (1744-1797). This hand-coloured copy of one of most important series of aquatint views of India, includes the first printed depiction of the Taj Mahal, shown in the background of plate 15 "A View of the Fort of Agra". Hodges made his name as a draughtsman whilst accompanying Captain Cook on his second voyage to the Pacific. In 1779, under the patronage of Warren Hastings, he travelled to India and remained there for six years, making visits to Calcutta, Cawnpoor, Lucknow, Allahabad, Agra, and Fatehpur Sikri. On his return he was made a Royal Academician and published the present work in parts between 1785 and 1788. Estimate: £15,000-25,000.