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Painting - Muhammad Ali Khan, Nawab of Arcot
  • Muhammad Ali Khan, Nawab of Arcot
    Kettle, Tilly, born 1734 - died 1786
  • Enlarge image

Muhammad Ali Khan, Nawab of Arcot

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    India (made)

  • Date:

    1772-1776 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Kettle, Tilly, born 1734 - died 1786 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Painted on paper

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Miss Charlotte Sulivan

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    South Asia, Room 41, case 27

This portrait is an example of the early introduction of western painting to Indian courts. It depicts Muhammad Ali Wallajah (r.1749-1795) who was installed as the Nawab of Arcot and the Carnatic by the British after he committed support for their campaigns in the Deccan. Unable to sustain the payments he had promised, he was subsequently forced to surrender most of his kingdom to the East India Company. The British artist, Tilly Kettle, was the first significant British portrait painter to work in India. Kettle had landed in Madras (modern Chennai) in 1769 and stayed there for two years painting some fine portraits of East India Company officials as well as scenes of local life. His success in Madras led to the commission for this imposing portrait of the Nawab. It shows the ruler, dressed in lavish robes and jewels, standing imperiously on a terrace with classical columns and balustrade. At his neck, the Nawab wears one of the famous Arcot diamonds.

Physical description

Painting, oil on canvas, portrait of Muhammed Ali Khan, Nawab of Arcot. This full length portrait shows the Nawab dressed in his jewelled turban, pearl necklaces and armlets.

Place of Origin

India (made)


1772-1776 (made)


Kettle, Tilly, born 1734 - died 1786 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Painted on paper

Marks and inscriptions

Nabob Omdut il Mulk.
Seragil Dowla.
Anaverden Caun.
Behauder Delaver Jung.
Nabob of Arcot and the Carnatick.


Height: 239 cm, Width: 148 cm, Height: 260 cm framed, Width: 176.6 cm framed, Depth: 3.8 cm framed

Object history note

Bequeathed by Miss Charlotte Sulivan of Broom House, Fulham.
Exhibited Society of Artists 1775.

Historical context note

Warren Hastings paid 1000 guineas for this painting which was subsequently sold at Christie's for 7 guineas. It was bought by Stephen Sulivan (1741-1821), Judge-Advocate in India. Mrs Archer (1979, p. 71) notes that Stephen was the son of Laurence Sulivan, one of Kettle's sponsors. It was inherited by his son, Laurence Sulivan (1783-1866), and then by Miss Charlotte Sulivan.

Descriptive line

Painting, portrait of Muhammad Ali Khan, by Tilly Kettle, oil on canvas, India, 1772-1776

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Mildred Archer, India and British Portraiture 1770-1825, 1979, pl. 19, p. 66, and chapter on Tilly Kettle pp. 67 ff.
pps. 238-239
Jackson, Anna and Ji Wei (eds.) with Rosemary Crill, Ainsley M. Cameron and Nicholas Barnard, compiled by the Palace Museum, translated by Yuan Hong, Qi Yue and Liu Ran. The Splendour of India' Royal Courts : Collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Beijing: the Forbidden City Publishing House, 2013. Text in English and Chinese. ISBN 9787513403917.
p. 93, pl. 1
Rohatgi P. and Parlett G., assisted by Imray S. and Godrej P. Indian Life and Landscape by Western Artists: Paintings and Drawings from the Victoria and Albert Museum, 17th to the early 20th century. Published by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, Mumbai, in association with V&A, London, 2008. ISBN 81-901020-9-5.
p. 11, cat. no. 2
Pearls / Beatriz Chadour-Sampson ; with Hubert Bari. London: V&A Publishing, 2013 Number: 1851777555, 9781851777556
p. 32, cat. no. 1.
India observed : India as viewed by British artists 1760-1860 / by Mildred Archer and Ronald Lightbown. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1982 Number: 0862940249 (pbk), 0905209184 (Victoria and Albert Museum) :


Oil colour; Canvas; Paint; Paper



Subjects depicted

Ruler; Jewellery


Paintings; Portraits; Bonita Trust Indian Paintings Cataloguing Project; Jewellery


South & South East Asia Collection

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