, The emperor Akbar watching an elephant fight Enlarge 1 /1
Deccan painting, possibly Machilipatnam style The emperor Akbar watching an elephant fight c. 1780 Place made: Andhra Pradesh, India
Materials & Technique: paintings, miniatures, opaque watercolour, gold, tin opaque watercolour, gold leaf, tin leaf Support: paper
Primary Insc: Inscribed u.c., above image, pencil, in Telugu
Tertiary Insc: Inscribed l.r. edge, below image, black ink 'G-AP.263' .
Dimensions: image 16.1 h x 23.8 w cm border 21.8 h x 30.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: The Gayer-Anderson Gift 1954
Accession No: NGA 91.1409
Subject: Royalty Portrait: male Animals: elephants
  • Acquired by Henry Russell, 2nd Baronet, while stationed in Hyderabad, Telangana, India, between 1800 and 1820
  • probably exported from India by Henry Russell, 1820
  • probably held in the collection of Sir Henry Russell, 2nd Baronet, of Swallowfield Park, Reading, Berkshire, England, 1820-1852
  • after the death of Sir Henry Russell in 1852 the collection may have passed by descent through various successive generations of the Russell family, but it was dispersed by sale at some point between 1852 and 1952
  • with Walker Galleries, London, England, 1952 or before
  • who sold it to Colonel Thomas Gayer Gayer-Anderson, 1952
  • held in the collection of Colonel Thomas Gayer Gayer-Anderson and the late Major Robert Grenville Gayer-Anderson, Pasha, both of Little Hall, Lavenham, Suffolk, England, 1952-1953
  • who gave it to the Commonwealth of Australia, 1953
  • held by National Library of Australia, Canberra, after transfer from London, 1954-1991
  • transferred to the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 1991.
  • The collecting history of this painting is unconfirmed between its creation and the earliest confirmed transaction, its purchase in Hyderabad between 1800 and 1820. A further break in the known provenance exists between the death of Sir Henry Russell in 1852 and the appearance of the painting at Walker’s Galleries, London in 1952. The National Gallery of Australia welcomes further information regarding its history of ownership in either of these periods.

In India there is a long tradition of small paintings chronicling the lives of rulers and their courts. Cameos of the legendary feats of great monarchs continued to be produced into the late Mughal period. The Islamic courts of the central Deccan region had long been influenced by Persian art, seen in this painting in the remarkable upswept landscape.

Painted almost two centuries after his death, the Mughal emperor Akbar (1542–1605, ruled 1556–1605) is shown watching a pair of male elephants in combat. Akbar was famously passionate about elephants and is said to have kept 101 of the animals purely to be ridden by him or pitted against one another for his amusement. In legend, Akbar was an accomplished rider of ferocious elephants.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2011
From: Asian gallery extended display label