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Arthur William Devis, 1762–1822

Sir Robert Chambers

Materials & Techniques:
Oil on canvas
42 × 28 5/8 inches (106.7 × 72.7 cm), Frame: 54 × 40 3/4 inches (137.2 × 103.5 cm)
Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
books | dark | draperies | footrest | interior | man | pen | portico | portrait | quill | red | robes | seated | sitting | table | velvet | wig
Associated Places:
India | Kolkata
Associated People:
Chambers, Sir Robert (1737–1803), Chief Justice of Bengal
Not on view
IIIF Manifest:

Devis was commissioned to paint these portraits of Sir Robert Chambers (1737-1803) and his wife, Lady Frances (1758-1839), shortly after his arrival in Kolkata from London. That year, the couple celebrated their tenth marriage anniversary and ten years spent together in India. The portraits were likely made to celebrate Sir Robert's new role as the acting chief justice for the Supreme Court of Bengal in 1784. He is shown on the portico of the New Courthouse in Kolkata in his judges' robes, bewigged, and holding a legal document inscribed with "In the Supreme [Court]." Lady Chambers sits beneath a tree at their garden home in Bhowanipore, just outside of Kolkata.
The composition of both portraits mirrors the format of paintings of landowners and their country houses in Britain, of the type made by Devis's father, Arthur Devis (1712-1787), but here applied to India.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2021

This portrait probably depicts Sir Robert Chambers (1737-1803), who served as a second judge and later chief justice of the supreme council of Bengal, headed by Warren Hastings. Chambers began his career as Vinerian professor of law at Oxford, and he was troubled by the anomalies of employing English law in cases arising in the very different conditions of Bengal. Chambers once wrote that "Judges, appointed to act in a country of which the Sovereignity is not directly and openly assumed by the Power appointing them, ought to be more than ordinarily careful to keep within the intended Limits of their Juristiction." Eventually Chambers turned against Hastings's leadership, and he fed information on Hastings to those in London who were building a case against the governor-general.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2010

Britain's Portable Empire : Campaign Furniture of the 18-19th Centuries (Katonah Museum of Art, 2001-07-08 - 2001-09-30) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Mildred Archer, India and British Portraiture, 1770-1825, Sotheby Parke Bernet, London, 1979, pp. 239-40, 503, fig. 162, ND 1327 I44 A72 (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. 88-89, N590.2 A83 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Thomas Curley, Sir Robert Chambers: Law, Literature, and Empire in the Age of Johnson, University of Wisconsin Press, Madisn, Wisconsin, 1998, p. 322, KD621 C48 C87X 1998 (SML) [ORBIS]

John McAleer, Picturing India People, Places, and the World of the East India Company, The British Library, London, p. 164, fig. 4.22, N8214.5.I5 M43 2017 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Pauline Rohatgi, Indian life and landscape by Western artists, paintings and drawings from the Victoria and Albert Museum, 17th to the early 20th century , Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, Mumbai, 2008, pp. 109-111, Fig. 9, N8214.5 I5 V53 2008 + (YCBA) [YCBA]

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