Tilly Kettle (1735–1786) was a portrait painter and the
first English painter to
work in India.
born in London, the son of
a coach painter, in a family that had been members of the Brewers' Company of freemen for five
He studied drawing with William Shipley in the
Strand and first entered professional portraiture in the
Kettle's first series of portraits appeared in the 1760s. His first
surviving painting is a self-portrait from 1760, with his first
exhibit at the Society of Artists
in 1761. He worked at restoring the Sheldonian
Theatre, Oxford and painted Francis
Yarborough, a doctor of Brasenose College, Oxford in 1763.
He painted many members of the
family of William
Legge, 2nd Earl of Dartmouth
. In 1764-5, he was active in
London and continued exhibiting at the Society of Artists.
1768, Kettle sailed to India with the British East India Company,
landing at Madras (now
Chennai), where he remained for two years.
There, he painted
Lord Pigot and Muhammad Ali Kahn
twice (once alone and
once with five of his sons). He also painted non-portraits,
including Dancing Girls (Blacks)
in 1772 and a suttee
scene in 1776 entitled, The ceremony of a
gentoo woman taking leave of her relations and distributing her
jewels prior to ascending the funeral pyre of her deceased
In 1770 Kettle painted a half-length portrait of
Hanson, a peripatetic writer on
European knighthood and chivalry originally from Yorkshire.
portrait is now in the collection of the Bury St Edmunds Manor House Museum.)
moved on to Calcutta (now
Kolkata) in 1771 and painted Shuja
ud-Daula and Dancing-Girl Holding the Stem of a
,he painted George
, Warren Hastings
, in Tibetan dress, presenting a
ceremonial white scarf to Lobsang
the 5th Panchen Lama
took an Indian mistress
and had two
daughters by her.
He left India in 1776
for London. He married
Mary there. She brought a dowry
while he put up £3,000 toward a trust fund, so both parties were
well established. However, contemporaries indicated that Kettle was
manipulated into the marriage for financial reasons. At the same time, he
switched his exhibitors to the Royal Academy of Art.
He had fewer clients in England than he had
before his departure, and his wife was financially imprudent. He
had two more daughters by her and one son, named James. He fell
into debt, and in 1786
he set out for a return
to India. He attempted the voyage overland through Asia
. His last portrait was painted in Aleppo, and he died
some time later, although where and when is unknown.
- British and Irish Paintings in Public Collections:
an index of British and Irish oil paintings by artists born before
1870 in public and institutional collections in the United Kingdom
and Ireland, Christopher Wright, Catherine Mary Gordon, Mary
Peskett Smith, Yale University Press, New Haven, Ct., 2006