A bronze statuette of Jeejeebhoy, featuring the statues of Mumbai philanthropists, goes on sale today
In Mumbai, the term “JJ” is significant and can only refer to one man: Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy (1783-1859), a Parsi businessman who traded in opium and textiles and obtained the distinction of being one of the main patrons of Mumbai thanks to the number of institutions he has helped to set up. An art school, hospital, causeway and much more are named after Jeejeebhoy. It is therefore not surprising that statues dedicated to the philanthropist can still be found today – a majestic marble in The Asiatic Society at Horniman Circle, and bronze statues near Churchgate Station and JJ Hospital in Byculla. The life-size statues have the same design: a seated Jeejeebhoy, his posture relaxed but dignified, sporting a dagli (Parsi outfit) and a phenta (a hat usually worn by wealthy Parsis). As India’s first knight and baronet, he wears a painted medallion of Queen Victoria.
On August 4, a bronze statuette of Jeejeebhoy will be auctioned as part of a live decorative item sale hosted by the Pundole’s auction house and gallery. Estimated at around Rs 3-5 lakh, the statuette is, curiously, of the same design as its big brothers and sisters. All the works are associated with Baron Carlo Marochetti (1805-1867), an Italian of French nationality who became Queen Victoria’s favorite sculptor.
Marochetti moved from Paris to London in the mid-19th century, where he later established a foundry in South Kensington.
“Along with public commissions, sculptors often produced models (smaller versions) for private collectors. In this case, all the versions we see in Mumbai were created by Marochetti, both in bronze and in marble. He created three different sizes of the same image in different mediums, ”said Mallika Sagar, auctioneer and specialist at Pundole’s. It is suspected that the bronze statuette of Jeejeebhoy could have come from the foundry of Marochetti, but cast by Morel Ladeuil, who produced other statuettes for the sculptor.
In Mumbai, public statues of Jeejeebhoy do not bear plaques or inscriptions relating to their origins. Even this particular statuette does not have an exact date, as sculptors often made several editions. But the works tell a story that connects Raj, Marochetti, and Jeejeebhoy, especially when statues politics have become important in recent years.
Although far from an obscure sculptor, Marochetti is more likely to be known by his works in India than by name. The equestrian statue of Mark Cubbon in Bengaluru and Angel of Peace in Kanpur are part of his legacy.
R Venkatesh, heritage researcher and photographer from Mumbai, said: “Sir JJ… earned his prosperity by drawing on the British Empire’s globalized economic network, while being a deeply rooted citizen of the city, contributing immensely to its institutions and public causes in a philanthropic manner. A perfect example of how the ‘joint venture’ between the British and the Indians unfolded in Bombay in the 19th century. “
According to Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy of Jehangir RP Mody (1959), at a meeting called by the Sheriff of Bombay on June 24, 1856, it was unanimously agreed that Jeejeebhoy should be honored for his benevolent acts towards “the poor and suffering of all castes and beliefs ”. Subscription lists were circulated and Marochetti was ordered for Rs 40,000.
“The consideration of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert was so great for the greatest of their oriental subjects that they visited Marochetti’s workshop to see the statue before it was shipped to Bombay,” writes Mody. It was completed in 1858 and is now in the Asiatic Society.
Marochetti also cast a bronze replica which is in JJ Hospital. The statue today enjoys the status of a god, with diyas and candles on a makeshift altar, and a notice asking people to take off their shoes before approaching it.
The story of the Third Bronze Statue, one of the many memorials to Indian and British luminaries that flank either side of Veer Nariman Road in Churchgate, is more complicated. According to the Fine Art Facts art collection management system, it was on loan to the South Kensington Museum, now known as the Victoria and Albert Museum, where it was reportedly considered surplus and kept on the pavement outside of the museum. It was even thought that it could be of considerable value as scrap metal. Subsequently, a member of the Marochetti family (who initially believed the statue to be “a white elephant”) donated it to the Jeejeebhoy family, who in turn donated it to the city of Bombay.
Fine Art Facts also indicates that it’s possible that Marochetti made a statuette before Jeejeebhoy’s first marble statue, but it’s hard to say if this is the same piece we see today. Sagar said the statuette came from a private British collection before being offered for sale by its current owner in Pundole.
Jeejeebhoy’s statuette, Venkatesh said, is still relevant today to the established business integrity and civic philanthropy around the world for which he is known.