Portrait of Sir John Shore, 1st Baron of Teignmouth, by Arthur Devis, £26,000 at Piers Motley.

Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

While the depiction of Bengali weavers made an eye-catching hammer price of £130,000 at the East Sussex auction on March 12 (see ATG No 2635), a very different type of work emerged at Piers Motley (18% buyer’s premium) on March 25.

Although a conventional British portrait, the 4ft 7in x 4ft 4in (1.39 x 1.32m) oil on canvas offered in Exmouth, Devon, also had a significant connection to the subcontinent.

It depicted Sir John Shore, 1st Baron of Teignmouth (1751-1834), an official of the East India Company who served as Governor-General of Bengal from 1793-98. He is shown standing with the Address of the British Inhabitants of Calcutta laid out on a table and a copy of the Life of Sir William Jones in his hand – indicating both the sitter’s administrative role and his scholarly interest in Oriental history and languages.

It may well have been painted during Devis’ 11-year spell in India where he received some lucrative portrait commissions from British colonialists (while also producing a smaller number of works recording the local scenery), although it could also date from the time after he returned to England. Devis is known to have produced six portraits of the Shore family between 1797 and 1817.

Damaged in transit

The picture in Devon had remained in the sitter’s family and came to auction from a descendant. Unfortunately it had been damaged (and subsequently relined and repaired) during transit many years ago, which may have partially explained why it was unsold when offered at Lawrences of Crewkerne in 2017 with an estimate of £5000- 8000.

However, as the reaction to the Bengali weavers pictures showed, works with an Indian connection seem to be receiving more attention on the current market than was the case seven years ago.

Here, given a lower pitch of £600-1000, it attracted strong interest with the two principal bidders being an American with a UK property – who was bidding while on a train in Switzerland – and an Indian buyer who eventually won out at £26,000.

As well as a good sum for a formal portrait by Devis, the sale also brought about a nice coincidence. Director and auctioneer Piers Motley-Nash who was on the rostrum for the sale is a descendant of one James Cornish, who served as John Shore’s secretary in India.