Portrait of a Nabob: Graphic Satire, Portraiture, and the Anglo-Indian in the Late Eighteenth Century

Christina Smylitopoulos


Examining portraits of British men between the late 1760s and the 1790s reveals earlier sitters identifying with the East through India-inspired apparel, exotic flora and fauna, Indian servants and companions, and references to famous Indian landmarks. In the last decade of the eighteenth century, however, men with interests in India deliberately reinforced their Britishness by emphasizing European dress in settings devoid of landscape and made reference to an India of administrative dependence and the setting for military or commercial prowess. The distancing manifest in portraiture suggests the influence of graphic satire, a medium that often implemented metaphor and irony, yet could address the mounting anxiety regarding representation more directly. This essay explores how humour in the service of censure can become in itself an excess, spilling over into works which are then viewed anachronistically by beholders as amusing stabs at British men with ties to India and provides a feasible explanation for why portrait subjects increasingly took on visual markers of national or traditional poses and dress as opposed to reflections of liminal lives lived in transcultural states.


nabob; portraiture; graphic satire; Anglo-Indian; caricature; satire; humour; empire

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