ilkie made numerous compositional sketches for his painting, and
described to Lady Baird, in 1834, his approach to his commission: 'The
drawings I am proceeding with, trying changes and rearrangements in
the details of the group, or, what is more the case, trying to give
form and shape to what in the first sketch was vague and confused.'
He worked hard to achieve authenticity, constructing a model of the
scene, to create the play of shadow.
This is a detailed study for the whole composition,
with a number of variations from the finished work: Baird
faces to the right (but to the left in the finished oil painting);
he stands with feet together (but with his right leg forward in the
painting); and Tipu lies on the viewer's
right (but to his left in the painting). In every instance, the viewer
is made to feel part of the scene, a spectator at this historic moment.
The towering figure of Baird and the dramatic lighting were no doubt
intended to evoke comparison with images of the risen Christ shaking
off Death and climbing from the grave. But the strong diagonal of the
composition also leads the eye to the lifeless body of Tipu. It was
here, as Baird himself acknowledged, that the strongest emotions were
focussed : anger with sorrow, death with victory. The following day,
Baird himself would fall from glory, superceded in his moment of triumph,
by the brother of the Governor General, the young Colonel, Arthur Wellesley.