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Thomas Hickey, 1741–1824

Purniya, Chief Minister of Mysore

Former Title(s):

Purnia [1985, Cormack, YCBA Concise Catalogue]

ca. 1801
Materials & Techniques:
Oil on canvas
50 × 39 1/2 inches (127 × 100.3 cm)

Label on verso, lower center: "[logo] Spink [logo] | Founded 1666 | King Street, St. James's,"; upper right: "Pitt & Scott Ltd | London | < F. 6042> | [handwritten] 202 | [typed] <5556>"

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
allegory | column (architectural element) | columns (architectural elements) | costume | document | gold (color) | green (color) | hat | interior | minister | papers | portrait | red | sculpture | statuette
Associated People:
Purniya, Chief Minister of Mysore
Not on view
IIIF Manifest:

The Irish-born Thomas Hickey worked as a portrait painter in Dublin, Rome, and Bath before moving to India in 1784. Competition from Johan Zoffany harmed his business, and he left India in 1791. He was soon traveling to China but returned to India in 1798 at a time when the East India Company was concluding its campaigns against Tipu, the French-backed Sultan of Mysore, to assert its complete control over the subcontinent. Purniya, a Brahmin, was Tipu’s most trusted minister. After Tipu was killed and his kingdom conquered in 1799, the British appointed Purniya the first Dewan (effectively the Regent) of Mysore while the puppet raja they had installed, Krishnaraja Wadiyar III, was in his minority. Hickey represents Purniya as an administrator in Persian dress but in a western interior of classical pilasters and with a statuette representing Lady Justice on a pedestal beyond. Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2016

Purniya, who was the Chief Minister of Mysore, accepted a bribe to betray Tipu Sultan, the ruler of Mysore, during a British attack in 1799. In the aftermath of East India Company rule, Purniya was named to a powerful position in the puppet regime of the Hindu Wodiyar rulers as a reward for his service. The British soldier Alexander Beatson described him around the time that this portrait was painted: "He joins to art, prudence, and perseverance; and possesses an uncommon degree of quick penetration and fertility in resource. He is seemingly steady to no principle but selfinterest; yet from his experience and knowledge, it is supposed he will prove a valuable instrument in our hands." The figure of justice in the background of the portrait is an indication of Purniya's close ties with the British.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2005

Adapting the Eye: an archive of the British in India, 1770-1830 (Yale Center for British Art, 2011-10-11 - 2011-12-31) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

Company Culture (Yale Center for British Art, 2003-09-16 - 2004-01-05) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

The Tiger and the Thistle: Tipu Sultan and the Scots in India (National Galleries of Scotland, 1999-07-29 - 1999-10-03) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

The Raj - India and the British 1600 - 1947 (National Portrait Gallery, 1990-10-19 - 1991-03-17) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Mildred Archer, India and British Portraiture, 1770-1825, Sotheby Parke Bernet, London, 1979, pp. 227-8, 487, 502, pl. IX, fig. 153, ND 1327 I44 A72 (YCBA) [YCBA]

C. A. Bayly, The Raj, India and the British, 1600-1947 , National Portrait Gallery, London, 1990, pp. 174-6, cat. no. 194, DS428 R25 1990 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Anne Buddle, The tiger and the thistle, Tipu Sultan and the Scots in India 1760-1800 , National Gallery of Scotland, 1999, pp. 42, 86, no. 130, DS469 +B83 1999 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Malcolm Cormack, Concise Catalogue of Paintings in the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1985, pp. 114-115, N590.2 A83 (YCBA) [YCBA]

John McAleer, Picturing India People, Places, and the World of the East India Company, The British Library, London, p. 169, fig. 4.25, N8214.5.I5 M43 2017 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Morna O'Neill, Company Culture:, British Artists and the East India Company 1770-1830: October 16, 2003-January 11, 2004 , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 2003, no. 7, V 1199 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Holly Shaffer, Adapting the eye, An archive of the British in India, 1770-1830 , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2011, p. 30, no. 79, V2359 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Stuart Cary Welch, The British view of India, selected English paintings from the Paul Mellon collection , American Federation of Arts, New York, 1978, N8214.5 I5 B75 1978 (YCBA) [YCBA]

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