19th-Century China Trade Art
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Oil on canvas, 11.4 in x 9.4 in (29 cm x 24 cm), circa late 18th century. Based on our research, this is a portrait of the Hong merchant leader Howqua I (伍國瑩, 1731–1800), father of Howqua II (伍秉鑑, 1769–1843). Below, see a portrait of the same man, albeit at an younger age, shown in the documentary Millennium, which introduces him as "Howqua." Begin at about 30:05 till it leads to this image:
Image from CNN Millennium, Episode 9 (The 19th Century) (1999)
Note: the man is not to be confused with Keying 耆英 (Chi Ying, Ki Ying, Qiying), signer of the Treaty of Nanking.
Howqua and other Hong merchants of the Chinese Qing empire held government rank, and hence donned the robes of imperial officials, as seen in the portrait. In the years prior to the Opium War (1839–42), only officially-authorized Chinese merchants were allowed to trade with Europeans. Howqua I founded the Ewo Hong (怡和行) and became one of the wealthiest men in the world during his time.
The portrait in this collection represents the highest quality of oil painting portraiture in the China Trade as well as Chinese art history in general. Its ornately-carved frame is also the best of its kind. Some believe that such portraiture in the China Trade did not begin until George Chinnery's time in China (1825–52). However, the best quality of China Trade oil paintings was achieved by the pre-Chinnery generation, represented by artists such as Spoilum (active 1765–1805).
Another portrait of Howqua I by Lam Qua (關喬昌, 1801–60), which was exhibited in Boston in 1851, was evidently a copy based on the portrait in this collection.
Two paintings of the Dutch Folly Fort (海珠炮臺), likely by Lam Qua, both oil on canvas and 16.9 in x 23.4 in (43 cm x 59.5 cm), circa 1830s–40s. These paintings are rare remaining visual records of the Dutch Folly Fort. The fort was destroyed in the First Opium War and then rebuilt. It was again a cite of battle in the Second Opium War (1856–60). In the painting on the right, the inscription of the Chinese name of the fort, "Haizhu" (海珠), is visible atop the fort's gate. On the back of the painting on the left, there is a buyer's note featuring an amusing anecdote:
A British merchant vessel by the Chinese artist Lai Fong (see text on back), oil on canvas, 17.7 in. x 23.6 in (45 cm x 60 cm), circa 1870. In this painting, the Red Ensign is visible on the ship's aft and the St. Patrick's Saltire is visible atop the mast.
Portrait of a mother with her daughters and their pet dog, likely by the Chinese painter Youqua, 29.5 in x 24.8 in (75 cm x 63 cm).
Portrait of a high-ranking imperial officer, oil on canvas, 12.5 in x 9.8 in (32 cm x 25 cm). This is a rare China Trade portrait of an officer granted the privilege of wearing double "peacock eyes" in his headgear. An image of this portrait was featured on page 21 of De Couleurs et d'Encre:Œuvres restaurées des musées d'art et d'histoire de La Rochelle (Montreuil: Gourcuff Gradenigo, 2015) [Of Colors and Ink: Restored Works from the Art and History Museums of La Rochelle (Montreuil: Gourcuff Gradenigo, 2015)].
A pair of paintings showing the mansion of the Ho (何) Family, likely by Youqua, oil on canvas, 16.9 in x 23.4 in (43 cm x 59.5 cm), circa 1840. These paintings capture the social dynamics of an upper-class 19th century Chinese family, showing a lady and a son of the family (in red attire) and servants (in blue attire).
Painting of the Chinese fort Shenghe (省河炮臺) and Chinese vessels, oil on canvas, 16.9 in x. 20.4 in (43 cm x 52 cm), circa 1830s.
Painting of a Chinese fort at Humen (虎門) and vessel, oil on canvas, 16.9 in x 23.4 in (43 cm x 59.5 cm), circa 1830s–40s. Humen was fortified to defend the Pearl River Delta, and was an important site during the First Opium War. It was also at Humen that the Chinese imperial commissioner Lin Tse-hsu (林則徐) famously destroyed 1,000 tons of confiscated British opium in 1839, an event that served as a catalyst for the subsequent British invasion.
Painting of the Chinese fort Tai Wong Kau (大黃滘口炮臺, 又名車歪炮臺) and vessel, oil on canvas, circa 1850.
A painting of steamships from multiple nations in Hong Kong, oil on canvas, 13.7 in x 22.8 in (35 cm x 58 cm), circa 1880s.
A tower on Sha-chou Island overseeing the Pearl River Delta, oil on canvas, 17.9 in x 23.6 in (45.7 cm x 60 cm), circa 1800, possibly by the artist Spoilum.
Three paintings of local Chinese scenery in the Canton region, where Chinese-European trade took place, oil on canvas, 16.9 in x 23.4 in (43 cm x 59.5 cm), circa 1820s–40s.
Oil on canvas, 17.7 in x 14.1 in (45 cm x 36 cm), circa 1850. Portrait of a gentleman reading. The red-topped headgear placed atop the shelf is part of his uniform as an imperial official.
Chinese boats in a storm, oil on canvas, 19.6 in x 15.3 in (50 cm x 39 cm), circa 1860.