Our Featured Work for this month is The Tomb of Nathar Shah Near Trichinopoly, a painting made in 1782 by Francis Swain Ward. Purchased in 1965, this work is currently on display at the British High Commission in New Delhi, India.

The Tomb of Nathar Shah near Trichinopoly by Francis Swain Ward

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An enigmatic landscape immersed in a dramatic evening light, this painting features the mosque of Nathar Shah (969-1039), a Muslim mystic and preacher from the Middle East who moved to Tamil Nadu in the 11th century. The most important Muslim monument in Trichinopoly, this domed building in ivory tones, with intricate decoration and supported by elegant columns, was constructed from the remains of an old Hindu temple. It also houses the tomb of Nathar Shah, who is said to have wandered in the area as a fakir, living a life of great holiness in this place. Beyond the mosque, situated in the left foreground of the composition and the other temples situated nearby, a chain of granite rocks, which is known as the Rock of Trichinopoly, rises steeply as a dominating feature of the town. Two silhouettes of men dressed in traditional costume appear to be resting in a contemplative pose by the riverbank.

The city of Trichinopoly was an important regional capital from the 7th to the 17th centuries, and was the scene of bitter fighting between Muslim, Maratha, British and French troops between the 17th and 19th centuries. During the 19th century, Trichinopoly was an important British cantonment (military quarter) situated on the banks of river Kaveri.

Military artist in the Madras Army, Francis Swain Ward (1734-1794) was born in Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey. He received training as a professional landscape painter. In 1757, he applied to the East India Company for a cadetship, which lasted until 1764. He exhibited at the Society of Artists between 1765 and 1773. While in England, Ward produced a series of landscapes based on his Indian sketches, and following his reappointment in 1773 as a captain in the Madras Army, he presented ten oil paintings to the Company. He also provided drawings for William Orme’s Twenty-four Views in Hindustan, 1805. Ward died in 1805 in Negatapam.