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Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa (1775-1839) of Nepal, dated 1839. Nepal. Opaque watercolour with tooled gold on wasli. 32.7 x 24.8cm
The inscription reads transliteration and translation is shri janaral kamandar in cheef bheem sen thapa ka 63 varshko samwat 1896 saal maa khaichiya ko (shri General Commander-in-chief Bhimsen Thapa, aged 63 years, painted in samwat 1896 [1839 AD]). The title given him instead of prime minister refers to his position when declaring war on the British.
Thanks to the kindness of Tarun Pant for the above transliteration and translation.
This portrait produced in the year of his death seems most likely to be in commemoration of him, yet his time in office as first Prime Minister (1805-37) was beset with rivalry and bloodletting, particularly between him and the royal court. He was accused of torturing, blinding and assassinating those in his way. Eventually he was imprisoned where, it is said, when told his wife was to be dragged naked through the streets he attempted suicide by cutting his own throat, but took more than one week to die, after which his body was defiled. He was however feted by some, even abroad by the likes of Karl Marx and Ranjit Singh, for his stand - albeit futile - against the East India Company who subsequently took control of Nepal in 1816, and also for his progressive reforms whilst retaining his position in the years that followed. In 1839 Bhimsen Thapa was 64 years old - the portrait must have served patronage for nostalgia by showing him in his prime.
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Above: gilt detail reflecting light
Images and text © Peter Blohm