Chinese visitors

Portrait thought to be of Tan Che Qua, by John Hamilton Mortimer, 1770-1. ©The Royal College of Surgeons of England, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

I have just heard that another large group of paintings from the National Trust’s collections in the West Midlands, the North West and Northern Ireland have been added to the nationwide Your Paintings database. They include works by old masters such as Canaletto, Van Dyck, Chardin and Hogarth, as well as modern artists including Barbara Hepworth, Paul Nash and Ben Nicholson. More paintings from other National Trust properties will be added by the end of 2012.

Your Paintings is a remarkable database that aims to provide access (eventually) to almost all publicly owned paintings in the UK. On doing a search for ‘Chinese’ I found the above portrait of Tan Che Qua by John Hamilton Mortimer, which is in the Hunterian Museum, London. Simon Chaplin originally alerted us to this picture in a comment on my first post about the contemporary portrait of Huang Ya Dong at Knole, but it is great to now have a decent image of it readily available.

Portrait of Huang Ya Dong by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1776, at Knole, Kent. ©National Trust Images/Horst Kolo

Tan Che Qua arrived in London in 1769 and established himself as a portrait modeller in clay, charging ten guineas for a bust and fifteen for a whole-length statuette. He exhibited work at the Royal Academy in 1770 and he is included in Johann Zoffany’s 1771-2 group portrait of Royal Academicians (third from the left at the back). Tan is thought to have returned to China in 1772, and his accounts of England and the English inspired Huang Ya Dong to make the same journey in 1774.

Another portrayal of a Chinese person in an English eighteenth-century painting that I found on Your Paintings is the group portrait by John Hoppner of Lady Staunton with her son George Thomas Staunton and a Chinese servant, at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, on loan from HSBC.

Portrait of Lady Staunton and her son George Thomas Staunton with a Chinese servant, by John Hoppner, 1794, ©School of Oriental and African Studies, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

As a young boy George Thomas Staunton accompanied his father on Earl Macartney’s diplomatic mission to the Chinese court in 1792-4. He learned Chinese on the way there and impressed the Qianlong Emperor with his grasp of the language (he can be seen in a sketch by William Alexander of Lord Macartney’s presentation to the Emperor). In view of the date of the picture (1794) it seems to have been painted shortly after the return of father and son Staunton to Britain, possibly bringing the Chinese servant with them.

Later in life Staunton had a career in the East India Company based at Guangzhou, and he was a member of another diplomatic mission to the Chinese court in 1816. He assembled a library of 3,000 Chinese books and a collection of Chinese works of art and artefacts. He stocked the garden of his country house, Leigh Park, near Portsmouth, with Chinese plants interspersed with chinoiserie pavilions. Staunton may have known James Bateman, the owner of Biddulph Grange, Staffordshire (both were members of the Royal Society at about the same time), and the example of Leigh Park may have influenced the garden at Biddulph, which similarly included Chinese plants and pseudo-Chinese structures and pavilions. Staunton’s own garden has, sadly, disappeared.

5 Responses to “Chinese visitors”

  1. Andrew Says:

    The internet has made it much easier to view paintings like this, and this project – like the NT collection website -is to be commended, but what is the copyright position of the images in the “Your Paintings” database? For example, you say that the Royal College of Surgeons claims copyright over a (copy of a) portrait of someone who died over 200 years ago, painted by someone who also died over 200 years ago. Ditto for the National Trust and the Reynolds portrait of Huang Ya Dong. Are these paintings public property or not?

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    As I understand it, the copyright relates to the image of the work, rather than the work itself, unless it is within seventy years of the artist’s death, when in addition the artist or his or her heirs have copyright over the work itself.

    But of course that is a separate issue from how the copyright holders choose to exert their right. Some museums, like the British Museum and the V&A, are admirably liberal in allowing non-commercial users to copy their images, as I discussed here:

  3. style court Says:

    Emile, thanks for the alert. Your Paintings is such a helpful — and addictive — resource. Glad to know more NT pictures have been added.

  4. Ingrid Says:

    Not quite a Chinese visitors but ….

    I came across your blog on National Trust on line in regards to Hwang a Tung.
    I have been researching another of Knole’s servants, John Morocco (Morockoe);, who was one of the kitchen/scullery staff.

    John Morocco is mentioned in Lady Anne Clifford’s list of servants 1613-1624. He is also mentioned in Knole & the Sackvilles, by Vita Sackville-West’ and in Charles Phillips 2 volume history. Most recently he is mentioned in Inheritance.
    By Robert Sackville-West.

    Each of these volumes repeats variations on a similar story, of there being a number of servants named John Morocco, each replacing the last and the last John Morocco being killed by the house servant in black boy passage during an argument. I have come across a story that they both died in the fight!

    Unfortunately none of the books give any reference to the source of this story or any reference to a date, or century, in which the incident took place.

    I’ve been searching through the Sackville/Knole archive records at Kent Museum in Maidstone. I found servant records an ‘accident book’ and various (very interesting) records of servant lives, but no John Morocco. I have even come across a name who I assume is another ‘blackamoor’ servant.

    I wondered if anyone might be able to help with this search.

  5. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Ingrid, yes as the case of Huang Ya Dong illustrates these stories about household servants and retainers can grow rather garbled and semi-mythical over time. I will put you in touch with the curator responsible for Knole as she may be able to help.

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