Offered in a two-day sale at Stansted Mountfitchet on March 12-13, the 2ft 5in x 2ft (76 x 63cm) swagger portrait drew multiple bids against a £400-600 guide before selling at £4100.
It was signed for British commercial photographer Johnston & Hoffman, which established a studio in Calcutta in 1882 – a year before this portrait was taken. The company became one of the largest commercial photographers in India.
Jane Oakley, Sworders picture specialist, said overpainting photographs was “quite a common thing” and did not seem to “dampen a client’s enthusiasm to buy it”.
Many early photographers had been portrait painters, which explains why the boundaries were blurred between these two disciplines.
The unknown maharaja captured here, posing in front of western-style columns, reflects the wealth and authority of the princely class who prospered under the British Empire.
Maharajas were intrigued by photography, some hiring personal photographers to record their lives and domains, while others used it as a symbol of modernity and progressiveness.