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Francesca Galloway

Spring Highlight:

A Trooper of Skinner’s Horse, Attributed to Ghulam Ali Khan

We are pleased to present this arresting oval portrait (first image above) portraying a risaldar (cavalry officer) of the legendary Skinner’s Horse, an identity established both by an English inscription on the reverse and the distinctive uniform of ‘The Yellow Boys’, the moniker given to the contingent of cavalry of 1,000 horsemen first raised by Lt. Colonel James Skinner (1778-1841) in 1803 at Hansi, a town 150 km northwest of Delhi. The Anglo-Indian Skinner was the scion of a Scottish father in the service of the East India Company and a Rajput princess. His mixed-blood heritage shaped his professional prospects. He was initially employed by the Maharaja Scindia of Gwalior, but upon the victory by British forces in 1803 accepted a position with them instead. Skinner’s Horse was disbanded in 1806, but was reconstituted in 1809, its ranks eventually swelling to 3,000 men. For his efforts, Skinner was honoured with the prestigious title ‘Companion of the Bath’ (CB) in 1826, though not without some complications of rank.

The close-up, bust-length format of the painting offers a remarkably detailed account of the soldier’s uniform. The steel Khula Khud, a type of conical helmet, is topped with a yellow plume, and enhanced with a retractable nasal bar and brass aventail, a kind of mail curtain protecting the brow, sides of the head, and neck. A padded gambeson wraps around the neck and contrasts with the colour and texture of the officer’s bushy side whiskers. The reddish-orange jacket is trimmed with fierce-looking fur to form dramatic curving shapes along the figure’s shoulder, down his front, and at the split sleeves. The twelve conical balls attached to one side of the open garment are presumably frog-buttons and served as a means to fasten the jacket. A lovely cummerbund spans the abdomen between the officer’s yellow sleeves.

This uniform matches exactly those worn in a well-known darbar painting of 1827 in which Skinner presides the acceptance of a new recruit into his regiment (1). Moreover, since it is known that the Delhi master artist responsible for that painting, Ghulam Ali Khan (active 1817-52), made numerous preparatory studies of the individually labelled officers included in that large scene, it follows that Ghulam Ali Khan created this work as well (2). Although several of the officers have complexions, noses, and bushy beards very similar to those of the risaldar here, the figure most closely resembling the individual portrayed here – especially in the detail with the corresponding semicircular patches of bare skin just below the lower lip – is labelled Amanat Khan risaldar, who is seated at the head of the row of officers on the viewer’s right. Yet for all the obvious appeal of the trooper’s flamboyant uniform, what makes his portrait truly compelling is Ghulam Ali Khan’s ability to capture his subject’s cool, self-assured demeanour. This he achieves by rendering a piercing glance, a haughtily raised eyebrow, and the planes and surface of the face built up by innumerable nuanced touches of the brush.

1 National Army Museum, London 1956-02-27-3. Signed ‘Work of Ghulam Ali Khan painter
resident of the Caliphate of Shahjahanabad completed in the Christian year 1827’, the painting is
published in William Dalrymple and Yuthika Sharma, eds., Princes and Painters in Mughal Delhi,
1707-1857 (New York: Asia Society, in association with Yale University Press, 2012), cat.58.

2 For the career of Ghulam Ali Khan, who made many works for James and William Fraser, see J.P.
Losty, ‘James Skinner’s Tazkirat al-Umara now digitised’, British Library Asian and African studies
blog 07 August 2014; and Yuthika Sharma in Dalrymple and Sharma, eds., 2012, pp. 41-52.



Indian Painting: Intimacy and Formality

March 14 – 21, 2024
Asia Week Hours: Mar 14-21, 10am-6pm (otherwise by appointment)
Opening Reception: Thursday, March 14 until 8pm

For Asia Week New York this March, we are pleased to present a small and exciting group of 17th and 18th century Mughal paintings, works from famous Bundi & Kota Ragamalas, a grand early 19th century Maratha processional scene by a Hyderabad trained artist, drawings for the famous Tehri Garhwal Gita Govinda series and Company School paintings including portraits of Indian children, a Skinner trooper and architectural studies of Mughal monuments and Hindu temples. Most of the paintings are recent acquisitions from private collections.

The title of this exhibition, two years in the making, reflects some of the key themes that are expressed in this group of Indian paintings. Our exhibition allows viewers to peer into this world, both intimate and formal. Amongst some of these most intimate scenes is that of a Mughal emperor, not in courtly splendour but tenderly cradling his favorite grandson, a religious gathering of devoted followers and a zenana scene more intimate than formal. By contrast, the formal scenes so often evoked in our imaginings of India can be seen in the grand processions, extraordinary tiger hunts and in formal portraits commissioned by the Emperor Shah Jahan, these paintings show us the courtly world in its stately splendor.

To learn more and view our catalog, click here.



With forty years of experience and expertise, today Francesca Galloway is known as one of the foremost galleries dealing in Indian painting and courtly arts. Combining a personal approach with a global outlook, we regularly exhibit internationally. Collaborating with the leading scholars in this field, our catalogues and publications are reference works in their own right, helping to advance the research and visibility of this fascinating and important subject.