|European Watercolors — Chinese School - China Trade View of the Hongs at Canton|
|Chinese School - China Trade View of the Hongs at Canton
Medium: Gouache on paper
Dimensions: Image size: 20” x 42” (plus margins); Frame size: 29 3/4” x 51 1/4”
The history of foreign trade with China is a long one and began with the overland silk routes across Persia to Asia. The incursions of the Ottoman Turks during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries forced Europeans to search for new paths and Vasco da Gama was the first to find a way around the Cape of Good Hope opening Asian ports primarily to Portuguese traders. As Portugal gradually lost its power to Spain other countries entered the frey, most significantly Britain and the British East India Company established in 1600, and the Netherlands with the Dutch East India Company, formed two years later.
In 1757, under the reign of Qianlong, all Chinese ports except Macao and Canton were closed to foreign trade. Even within these city ports traders were severely limited and in Canton a specific trade area for westerners was created. The western factories or hongs were located on a small strip of land about a quarter of a mile long, running from outside the city walls to the Pearl River. The area was specifically assigned to the Fan Kwae, or ‘Foreign Devils’ as the traders were known. Strict restrictions were applied and enforced by the Co-Hong, an organization of thirteen Chinese merchants responsible to the Emperor. This system remained in place until the opium war of 1841.
This remarkable painting shows the restricted trading posts of Canton and was painted for the foreign market. From the late 1700s to 1900s an increasing number of American, British, Dutch, Portuguese, French and Scandinavian sailing vessels returned to their native countries loaded with exotic objects from China. The insatiable interest in all things oriental had resulted in the creation of an enormous range of items created specifically for the Western market. From furniture, to silver, silk embroideries, lacquerware, ivory, fans, wallpaper and paintings, objects were made to meet every possible need and desire. The diversity of countries trading in China is represented by the flags of the American, British, French and Danish nations displayed prominently along the skyline.
China trade paintings became known in America primarily through the American China trader Augustine Heard, who brought a substantial collection back to the United States in ca. 1855. These are now located at the Peabody Museum in Salem, Massachusetts.
The exceptional detail, precision of the brushwork and concentration upon light effects is superb in this remarkable work. Few paintings on paper of this size, and of the Hongs at Canton have survived in this condition. Its size, quality and detail emphasize the painting’s importance.