Catalogue entry

T02357 A REPRESENTATION OF THE PERSIANS IN THE COSTUME OF THEIR COUNTRY, ATTENDING AT CARLTON PALACE, WITH PORTRAITS OF THE HORSES PRESENTED TO HIS MAJESTY BY HIS EXCELLENCY THE AMBASSADOR FROM THE EMPEROR OF PERSIA? 1819

Oil on canvas, 39 3/4 × 56 3/4 (101 × 144)
Presented by Mr. Paul Mellon KBE through the British Sporting Art Trust 1979
Prov: ...; Rutland Gallery until 1963, when sold to Mrs. John West, Unionville, Chester County, Pennsylvania; sold 1977 to Essex Gallery of Sport, Far Hills, New Jersey, from whom purchased by Paul Mellon, 1977.

Chalon exhibited a picture with this title at the British Institution in 1820 (315). The exhibited picture is likely to have been the more highly-finished version signed and dated 1819, reputedly commissioned by George IV (then Prince Regent) but not paid for, and subsequently purchased by Major Bower, by whose descendant it was sold at Sotheby's 17 November 1976 (155, repr., bt. Richard Green, now in a private collection overseas). T02357 may be either a preliminary version or a replica painted for an unknown admirer of the exhibited picture.

The Shah of Persia sent an Ambassador to London in 1819 primarily to discuss with Lord Castlereagh certain aspects of the Anglo-Persian treaty concluded by Sir Gore Ouseley in Tehran in 1812, and more recently revised by English plenipotentiaries in Tehran. That treaty had established an Anglo-Persian alliance against a possible Franco-Russian one; the Shah now hoped for positive assurance that England would protect Persia in the event of Russian invasion.

The Persian Ambassador left Tehran in October 1818, laden with presents from the Shah to George III. The Shah had also selected eighteen magnificent Arabian horses to be presented to the Prince Regent. The British government was reluctant to defray any of the cost of the embassy itself, especially as the Persian Ambassador stayed for some weeks in Vienna and Paris en route; however reports that he had been splendidly treated in Paris persuaded Castlereagh that it would be expedient to provide at least a rent-free house and a carriage in London.

Transport of the train of Arabian horses and their Persian grooms posed a different sort of problem. It was agreed that they would travel with the Persian Ambassador as far as Constantinople, that they would then proceed independently to London and that the British government would organize and pay for their transport from Constantinople. A Mr. George Willcox volunteered his services, and was given credit for £1,500, a sum quickly exceeded. Transport from Constantinople to Marseilles, in a specially-chartered merchant freighter, alone cost £1,470, and travel expenses from Marseilles to Paris (presumably overland, riding in stages: but only occasional details of the journey survive in Castlereagh's published correspondence) came to a further £400. By 19 March 1819, the horses and their grooms had arrived in London under Willcox's escort.

On 29 April 1819 The Times reported the arrival of the Persian Ambassador in London. He was attended by ‘ten or a dozen persons inhabited in silks and turbans, with daggers and long beards’, and accompanied by his wife, always referred to as ‘the Fair Circassian’: she was said to be guarded by two black eunuchs with sabres at their sides, and was throughout kept from the curious eyes of ‘loungers and dandies’. The public appearances of the Persian Ambassador and his exotic retinue remained news for the next few months. On several occasions the Ambassador rode in Hyde Park, with Sir Gore Ouseley or the diplomat James Morier, on some of the Arabian horses. The Times reported on 3 May that the Persian Ambassador had the previous day ridden a grey horse, ‘a beautiful Arab of large size, said to be the favourite charger of the Shah, a present to the Prince Regent, as a mark of his particular esteem’; the horse's trappings were ‘studded with diamonds and emeralds, with a gold chain of considerable value’, and the Persian Ambassador's dress was ‘magnificent, entirely of the finest Cashmere shawl’.

Mental illness had long since incapacitated George III from receiving state visitors; accordingly the presentation of the Shah's gifts (fully listed in The Times of 24 May) took place at the Prince Regent's London residence, Carlton House. ‘The Arabian horses, brought by His Excellency to England as a present to the Prince Regent, were drawn up in the court-yard’. For George III there was ‘a gold-enamelled looking-glass opening with a portrait of his Persian Majesty’, a magnificent sword ‘celebrated in Persia for the exquisite temper of its blade’ and an abundance of pearls, carpets and Cashmere shawls. At a fancy-dress ball at Carlton House in July, the Persian Ambassador was ‘presented by HRH the Prince Regent with his portrait set in diamonds, which he placed with his own hand round the Arab's neck, suspended by a dark blue riband’. The Persian Ambassador was taken to Epsom races, to the Tower and to Greenwich. Meanwhile Lord Castlereagh appears to have remained cordial but non-committal over the object of the embassy.

The wording ‘A Representation...’ in the title of the work exhibited at the British Institution in 1820 (the same title, given in full in the heading above, is also used for T02357, its replica) suggests that Chalon was not an eye-witness of the presentation of the Arabian horses at Carlton House; and certainly he has allowed himself considerable artistic licence in depicting rolling countryside, far removed from the urbanity of St. James's Park, behind the royal stable-block. Chalon depicts seven Arabian horses. Eighteen had left Constantinople; how many in fact survived the long journey to enter the Prince Regent's stables is not known. It should perhaps be pointed out that as George III died on 29 January 1820, the former Prince Regent, now George IV, is properly styled ‘His Majesty’ in the title of the picture exhibited in the spring of 1820 (ed. Marquess of Londonderry, Correspondence, Despatches and other Papers, of Viscount Castlereagh, XII, 1853, pp.112–9; The Times 27 April–20 July 1819, passim).

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1978-80: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1981