The account of two 19th century paintings

In October 1879 Major-General Frederick Roberts found an Afghan painting in Amir Sher Ali’s palace in Kabul showing a mounted Afghan sardar riding alongside a running British solider and a dog. This painting was made by an Afghan artist and was painted around the time of the First Afghan War (1838-1842) for an unknown Afghan patron. According to Farrukh Husain (the author of “Afghanistan in the age of empires“) the Firangi redcoat was a captured soldier literally reduced to slavery. But my question is why a slave has a gun and is wearing a military uniform? In my opinion the painting was simply demonstrating and symbolizing the victory and superiority of Afghans over Firangi invaders. The Afghan sardar is noticeably drawn larger than the Firangi and the latter is running on ground like some retainer, to convey the lordliness of the Afghan and lowliness of the Angraiz. 

The painting greatly offended and disturbed Frederick Roberts. In his pettiness, he ordered two of his officers to paint a new version with the British and Afghan roles reversed, with an officer of the 9th (Queen’s Royal) Lancers riding alongside an Afghan who is running on the ground like a servant.

Both of the paintings are placed in National Army Museum, London.


Leave a comment