A View of Serampore from the Park at Barrackpore
‘I look more and with far different eyes at all that passes before me… each tree and shrub, every glimpse of landscape gives me a sensation.’ - James Baillie Fraser
This painting invites us to step into the dappled shade of Barrackpore Park, west Bengal, as our attention is diverted toward the riverbank. Under the canopy and cascading roots of a pipal tree a chobdar (a stick holder) greets a faqeer (an ascetic), while a group of men pull a boat ashore. Beyond this, an assortment of other vessels drifts along the waters of the Hooghly River. The Dutch settlement of Serampore lines the far bank with classical architecture befitting the cosmopolitan town. James Fraser travelled to India 1813 before he explored the Himalayan hill states. Returning to Calcutta, India in June 1816, his passion for art flourished under the guidance of the English landscape painter William Havell (1782-1857) and celebrated artist George Chinnery (1774-1852). Fraser’s diaries from 1818/1819 reveal that he received lessons from Chinnery almost every day. It is highly likely that Fraser completed our work at this time and that it provided inspiration for his acclaimed series of 24 watercolours entitled 'Views of Calcutta and its Environs'. The painting was then most likely shipped to the artist’s father in England on 26th March 1820, as Fraser noted on the package label: ‘The small case contains several oil pictures, all painted by myself.’ “The Views of Calcutta” watercolour series was later reproduced as aquatints in England between 1824-1826. Our oil painting corresponds with plate 21 from this set, perhaps providing inspiration for these later works (see plate 21 from J. Baillie Fraser, London, 1826). While Fraser’s series has been praised for containing ‘some of the most beautiful depictions of Calcutta ever made’, it is unusual to find an early source of inspiration for the images. However, this painting conveys Fraser’s typical veneration for landscapes, while its execution in oil affords the painting an intriguing quality.
Literature: James Baillie Fraser, 'Views of Calcutta and its Environs', London, dated 1826, British Library, Shelfmark: X644(21).