Kotwal, warden and landowner



Kotwal, warden and landowner
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A WhatsApp forward doing the rounds last week within the community with an image of a Parsi in an old-style clothing and headgear (pictured) was identified by Ahmedabad-based art collector Anil Relia as Ardeshir Dhanjishah Kotwal (1796-1856). The art connoisseur confirmed that the original image of Kotwal, a warden-general of Surat castle and town, was in his personal collection. "It is published in my Parsi Portraits book on page 25,” he wrote. A selection of Parsi portraits from Relia’s assemblage was on display in the Gujarat capital in late 2018 (see "Parsi portrayals,” Parsiana, January 7, 2019).

The exhibition souvenir Relia referred to explains that Kotwal’s portrait measuring 23.2” x 18.5” in oil on canvas was painted circa 1850 by an unnamed Chinese artist. Kotwal was reportedly brought up under protection (of the British) after his father, a prominent officer of the British East India Company, was murdered. "Hailing from an aristocratic family, he became a warden of Surat castle and later became chief of police and a magistrate. In recognition of his services he was granted jagirs (estates) of 18 villages,” states the write-up accompanying Kotwal’s image.

The curator’s note in the brochure explains that Parsi entrepreneurs of the China trade were known to commission portraits of themselves and their family by artists who had often not met their sitters. "These Chinese artists developed a unique style which was a synthesis of traditional techniques in painting and the Western tradition. They executed a large number of paintings for both the western and Indian markets and were known as ‘export artists.’”