China Trade Painting: 1750s to 1880s

Lee, Sai Chong Jack 李世莊
Supervisor: Prof. Q.L. Wan

This thesis contains seven chapters. Chapter One outlines the current scholarships on the study of China trade painting. For a long time, China trade painting has been excluded from the tradition of Chinese art history. It usually appeared as a branch of decorative arts in the art history of China though it is becoming an area of interest of some Chinese scholars in recent years when a number of PhD research papers on the subject are produced.

In the second chapter, I shall discuss one of the earliest type of export art catered for the European market, that is the making of clay models. From the works by the Chinese modelers, one will see the early encounter between Chinese artist and Westerners, in and outside China.

Chapter Three focuses on reverse painting on glass, a completely new medium imported to China from the West since the eighteenth century. Moreover, the demand for portrait by Westerners emerged in Canton since the late eighteenth century, the extant oil portraits of Spoilum, the earliest known Chinese portrait painter, reflect that painters in Canton already utilized western medium with certain degree of confidence and proficiency.
The fourth chapter examines the design of Chinese images by Pu-Qua. These images were popular and influential as they are major sources of Western understanding of the Chinese in the late eighteenth century. Till the mid—nineteenth century, trade painters in Canton kept on reproducing Pu-Qua’s design for the Western market.
A considerable proportion of my thesis is devoted to Lamqua as both Chapters Five and Six offer a comprehensive study of artist. Undoubtedly, Lamqua played an extremely crucial role in the history of China trade painting as he was the most famous and well documented artist in the West. Apart from inspecting the controversial identity of Lamqua, I will give a detail analysis of the oil portraits he executed for both his Chinese and Western customers. These portraits on one hand demonstrate the high proficiency of a Chinese painter in utilizing oil paint, the sitters depicted also illustrate the socio-political situation of Canton. Moreover, due to the reputation of Lamqua, his studio has always been a tourist spot for visitors to Canton. A precise study of the modus operandi of Lamqua’s painter studio can give us an idea of how Western style paintings were massively manufactured by many anonymous painters in the nineteenth century Canton.

The concluding chapter discusses how trade painting industry flourished since the 1840s. The individual character of trade painters became more identifiable during this period, from Tingqua, Sunqua to Youqua, each painter and their studios bear certain characteristics that are not found in others, even though the kind of pictures they produced are sometimes overlapping. The increasing economic and political importance of Hong Kong after British colonization opened a potential art market for trade painters. With the advent of photography, the production of trade painting faced a new challenge if not a treat. The quick response of the late nineteenth century trade painters in integrating painting and photography to their art business once again manifested their flexibility and open attitude towards Western art media.