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Sotheby's to Sell Paintings Depicting Tipu Sultan's Victory Over the British at the Battle of Pollilur in 1780
Last exhibited by the Zamana Gallery, London, in 1990, and at The Tower House, Kensington, home of Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page in 1983. Photo: Sotheby's.

LONDON.- Sotheby's announced that on the 230th anniversary of the renowned Battle of Pollilur in India, which took place on 10th September 1780, Sotheby’s London, in its biannual Arts of the Islamic World Sale on Wednesday, October 6, 2010, will offer for sale 24 rare and rediscovered preparatory paintings depicting the conflict. The paintings, which have remained in private hands since 1802 and were last exhibited in the 1990 Tigers round the Throne, The Court of Tipu Sultan exhibition at the Zamana Gallery, London, have outstanding provenance and are estimated at £650,000-800,000.

The collection of 24 preparatory paintings depict the famous Battle of Pollilur in India at which the East India Company army surrendered to Tipu Sultan and his father Haydar Ali and suffered a high number of casualties, representing one of the worst defeats the British suffered on the subcontinent. While the British lost this particular battle, Wellesley and the British went on to defeat Tipu Sultan at the Battle of Seringapatam on 4 May 1799 – the final confrontation of the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War between the British East India Company and the Kingdom of Mysore.

Following the Battle of Pollilur, Tipu commissioned a mural to commemorate his father's victory, which was installed in the Daria Daulat Palace, Seringapatam in 1784. The mural and preparatory paintings were likely to have been produced shortly after the 1780 battle and illustrate Haydar and Tipu splendidly attired on their elephants supported by their army and the French mercenaries under the command of Monsieur Lally and the Maratha troops. All are advancing towards ‘The British Square’ with Lieutenant-Colonel Baillie seated in his palanquin looking rather perplexed with Lieutenant-Colonel Fletcher and Captain Baird on horseback to his left. In 1791, the mural was painted over following the Treaty of Mysore, when Tipu was forced to surrender his two sons as hostages. Colonel Wellesley subsequently restored the mural and it is likely that the preparatory paintings to be offered for sale were used as a reference to restore the original mural. The preparatory paintings were originally part of two large scrolls, approximately 7ft by 30ft and represent three quarters of the original painting/cartoon.

The paintings were acquired by one Captain John William Freese in approximately 1802. Freese was a member of the Madras Artillery and played an important role in the siege of Seringapatam in 1799; in 1802 he was appointed by General Stuart as Commissary of Stores at Seringapatam. By descent the paintings went to 6th Earl of Lanesborough (grandson of Captain Freese) and remained in the family for a further 100 years until they were sold as part of a group lot in the Swithland Hall Estate Sale in 1978 (on behalf of the 9th Earl of Lanesborough).

The paintings also feature 18th-century notations, which significantly add to their historical interest. These inscriptions identify the key figures in the battle, some of whom have never before been recorded. As well as the names of 'Nowab Hyder Ali Bahadur', 'Tipu Sulthan', 'Colonel Bailie', 'Colonel Fletcher', 'Captain Baird' and 'Monsieur Lally' there are others that include 'General Syed Ghaffar', 'Priest Aukil Shah Khadry', 'Mohammad Drewan', 'Commandant Mohamad Ali', 'Sheik Anser', 'Shah Anwar', 'Ashad Baig Khan' who have not been previously identified in records of the battle. These glosses must have been written by someone who was either at the battle or had direct knowledge of the sequence of events. It is still to be determined who was the scribe but expert study of the handwriting has raised the possibility that the hand could be that of Captain Freese, but also bears a marked similarity to the hand of another of the commanding officers who attended the siege in 1799, Colonel Arthur Wellesley, later 1st Duke of Wellington, one of the most celebrated and renowned figures in British military history.

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