'Dhana Colonel Skinner's Farm', 1828
Watercolour on Oriental paper, by Ghulam Ali Khan, Delhi, 1828.
This intimate painting of Colonel James Skinner CB (1778-1841) riding in an open carriage at his farm enriches what is known of his amazing life. The portraits of named individuals who worked on his estate indicate Skinner's interest in memorialisation - using art as a record of events, people and places. For example, he would present his guests with pictures of the musicians and dancers who had entertained them at dinner.
The Anglo-Indian soldier James Skinner was the son of a Scottish officer in the East India Company's service and a Rajput lady. Formerly an officer in the Maratha Army, Skinner raised two cavalry units for the British, later known as 1st and 2nd Skinner's Horse. Nicknamed 'The Yellow Boys' for their flamboyant saffron-coloured uniforms, they were famous for their horsemanship and skill at arms. Skinner was well rewarded, enabling him to acquire a town house in Delhi and a large estate at Hansi, Haryana, shown here. He maintained a close interest in Indian culture and was an important patron of the arts, commissioning a number of paintings recording his life and exploits.
Skinner lived in princely style and liked to be addressed by his Moghul title, Nasir-ud-Daula, Colonel James Skinner Bahadur Ghalib Jang - Most Exalted, Victorious in War. Although he was brought up as a Christian, his household included a number of Hindu and Muslim wives and mistresses. He built a church in Delhi, but also a mosque and a Hindu temple.
Such a cross-cultural lifestyle had few admirers among the following generations of soldiers and politicians in India. Towards the end of his life, although promoted to colonel and created a CB by the British, Skinner was conscious that his mixed race status had denied him the highest rewards for his military skills and leadership.
NAM Accession Number
National Army Museum, Out of Copyright
National Army Museum, Study collection
Browse related themes