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Thomas Daniell Painting For Bonhams Auction

A painting by Thomas Daniell, R.A. (British, 1749-1840) titled ‘Carved rocks at Sultaungunge, Bihar’, an oil on canvas, estimated to sell for £70,000- £90,000, is one of the star lots at Bonhams Travel and Exploration Sale in London on 16th of September.

Thomas-DaniellThe painting which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1806 is from the Collection of the Persian scholar, archeologist and curator, Ralph Pinder-Wilson (1919-2008). This picture was an amazing discovery by Pinder-Wilson who found this unattributed painting sitting in a second-hand shop on Harrow Road in West London in the late 1940s, lacking not just a signature, but any inscription or date. He would have recognised the subject instantly, and must have had strong suspicions regarding the attribution. It had seemingly been lost since the 1806 exhibition at the Royal Academy. He purchased the work for £15, a reasonable sum for an Old Master painting, but a pittance for such an important work by Thomas Daniell.

Pinder-Wilson was extremely pleased with his discovery, and proud to point out to visitors that the picture was actually back where it belonged; fittingly, at his house in Earls Terrace in Kensington, where Thomas Daniell himself had lived.

Hannah O’Leary, a specialist with Bonhams Travel and Topographical Department, comments: “Thomas Daniell (1749-1840), an English topographical artist and engraver, travelled to India with his sixteen-year-old nephew William as his assistant. They arrived in Calcutta in early 1786.

“Following two years in and around Calcutta, the Daniells made two trips along the Ganges. The Daniells would have passed the island of Janghira near Sultaungunge, with its holy temple, on both trips, and it is clear that the site fascinated the Daniells, as no fewer than seven drawings are recorded:

The Daniells travelled throughout the sub-continent, sketching as they went, until their return to England in 1793. Back in London they produced the series of 144 aquatints, Oriental Scenery, that gave the people of Britain their first accurate look at the exotic sub-continent, and cemented the Daniells’s fame and reputation as artists.

Ralph Pinder-Wilson read history at Christ Church, Oxford, but on the outbreak of World War II was granted a war emergency honours degree and attached to the Indian Army and posted to India, where he learned Urdu. Following postings to Tripolitania (now Libya), Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Italy and Greece, he ended the war a captain. His travels had awakened a passion for “the Orient” of the Daniells, and he returned to Oxford to read Oriental languages, Arabic and Persian.

From 1949 until 1976, Pinder-Wilson worked in the Department of Oriental Antiquities in the British Museum. During his time at the British Museum, he proved he had a sharp eye, as well as a broad knowledge of the art and artifacts of the Orient. He famously identified the Vaso Vescovali, now one of the treasures of the British Museum collection.

In a return to the Greater India he had come to love during the war, Pinder-Wilson was appointed Director of the British Institute of Afghan Studies in Kabul in 1976, despite an offer to succeed Richard Ettinghausen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “One really had to take the chance to live in an Islamic country after having dedicated one’s life to the culture”.

However, following the Russian invasion in 1979 and the establishment of a puppet Government under Babrak Karmal, Pinder-Wilson found himself one of the few Westerners remaining in Kabul. The Institute was forced to close in 1982 under charges of espionage, and Pinder-Wilson was brought to trial, accused of smuggling Afghans out of the country, and resulting in a ten-year prison sentence. He was frequently interrogated and brainwashed, forced to write false confessions of guilt, and refused consular access. He was released unexpectedly following the intervention of MP George Galloway on his visit to Kabul in 1982. He returned to the United Kingdom and spent the rest of his life a dedicated, highly respected and much-loved consultant in Islamic and Indian art.