2009. A Pair of Chinese School Paintings

Object description
Circa 1779-1782
The Hongs at Canton and Whampoa Anchorage on the Pearl River
Oil on canvas (or possibly paper relined on canvas) and later relined on fiberboard, c. 36 x 54 cm

This particular Canton view of the western 'hongs', can be precisely dated by the flags flying. From the left: the Danish, the pre-revolution white Bourbon flag (replaced by the tricolour in 1791), the Imperial flag of the Austrian empire, further dates the work to between 1779 and 1787, then the Swedish, British and Dutch flags. The European and Chinese male figures on the waterfront (women were forbidden) are characteristic of these early views. The buildings with western architectural elements, are introduced in the second half of the 18th century. The classical façades of the western factories are beginning to replace the local vernacular. Numerous Chinese junks are clustered along the shore.

A view of Whampoa and the Pearl River from Dane's Island overlooking the Protestant burial ground, shows from left to right: French's Island, Whampoa Island and Junk Island. Presenting junks, sampans, tankas and a large fleet of 17 ships, some at half-mast, with Swedish, Dutch, British, Danish, Austrian and the French Royal white flags. The warehouses ('bankshalls') are seen on the banks of Whampoa Island beyond the anchorage, each flying its national flag. The famous nine-stage pagoda stands just behind the town of Whampoa. The sailors spent six month at the anchorage during the trading season while their captains and supercargoes where upriver at Canton. The absence of an American flag amongst the ships is also important in helping to determine the date of the work. The first American vessel, the Empress of China arrived in Whampoa in 1784. The omission of the American flag in this view would therefore suggest a date prior to this. It is also interesting to note that the artist has depicted some of the British ships flying the blue ensign which was only flown by British naval vessels. Between 1779 and 1782, there was a naval presence there under Vice Admiral of the Blue, Edward Hughes. This helps us to speculate further on a possible date of execution at around this time.

In the collection of the Swedish merchant Johan/Johannes Ahlberg (1821-1889) from Gothenburg. Since then in the same family.