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JAMES FORBES (1749-1819)
  • JAMES FORBES (1749-1819)


    Watercolour over pencil

    22 x 28 cm



    Private collection, Southeast England




    James Forbes was an exceptionally well-travelled Scottish ethnographer, botanist and a prolific artist. Born in London, he travelled to India in 1765 as a ‘writer’ for the British East India Company and lived in the country for just shy of two decades. During this time, he filled more than 52,000 manuscript pages with his observations, sketches and notes on all aspects of Indian culture, flora, fauna and architecture. He was, in 1781, one of the very first Western artists to draw the Taj Mahal. In 1775, Forbes became a private secretary to Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Keating, commandant of the artillery and engineers under the Bombay presidency, and held another appointment at Baroche in Gujurat, before becoming collector and resident at Dubhoy.


    He returned to England in 1784 and married, after which he travelled around Europe regularly. He undertook a Tour of the continent between 1796-1797 (during which time he painted the present trio), visiting Germany, Switzerland and Italy. Forbes’ next trip to Europe unfortunately coincided with Britain ending its ceasefire with France, and he was detained in Verdun. Sir Joseph Banks, president of the Royal Society, pressured for his release and, in June 1804, Forbes was allowed to return to England. In 1806 he published Letters from France, which was an account of his captivity.

    Once back in England, he wrote ‘Oriental Memoirs..’ (4 vols., publ. 1813-1815), which included engravings from his original drawings. Even today, "Oriental Memoirs" remains a valuable document of the culture, flora and fauna of India at the time.


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