Mar 12, 2014

English Babu (Native Indian Clerk) Holding a Hookah

English Babu (Native Indian Clerk) Holding a Hookah

c. 1890

Gum tempera, graphite, ink, and tin on paper

Secondary Support: 48 x 29.5 cm (18 7/8 x 11 5/8 in.); Painting only: 45.7 x 28 cm (18 x 11 in.)

Gift of William E. Ward in memory of his wife, Evelyn Svec Ward 2003.145



This is an archetypal satirical caricature of an native Indian clerk (babu), a Bengali dapper dandy whose fashion sense combines British and Indian mores with dissonant results. Imitating his British masters, he sits cross-legged on a Victorian chair, holding a hookah, sporting a Prince Albert hairstyle, and wearing European buckled shoes. His posture models popular photo studio portraits of the time. Kalighat painters ridiculed these vain babus as foppish nouveau riche.

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