Ladies fishing in Chinese art

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Chinese print depicting a female figure holding a fishing rod in one hand and a recently caught fish in another, in the Study at Saltram, NT 873000. ©National Trust/Andrew Bush

I have recently started to notice images of ladies fishing in various kinds of eighteenth-century Chinese art. It seems to have been a well-established theme.

A close-up of a mid 18th century Chinese mirror painting of a woman in a blue silk robe with a child at Saltram, Devon

Chinese mirror painting depicting a female figure fishing seated on rockwork on the banks of a river, a girl standing next to her, mid eighteenth century, in an English rococo gilded frame, in the Mirror Room at Saltram, NT 872171.1. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

This motif is seen on a variety of objects and in different media, including prints, mirror paintings and porcelain.

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Chinese porcelain punch bowl, decorated in enamels with a scene of a lady fishing, a boy next to her holding up a fish, at Erddig, NT 1145613. ©National Trust/Susanne Gronnow

I am not entirely sure whether these female figures are supposed to represent upper-class ladies doing a spot of angling in their well-watered gardens, or whether they are romanticised images of peasant women fishing in order to supplement the family diet.

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Part of the painted decoration on the Chinese House, a garden pavilion at Stowe, showing a lady fishing, English, probably 1820s (restored 1990s), based on a Chinese image, NT 91820. ©National Trust/Emile de Bruijn

Or are they a bit of both, the Chinese equivalent of Queen Marie-Antoinette creating an idealised vision of country life at her Hameau at Versailles?

If anyone has any suggestions, do leave a comment.

2 Responses to “Ladies fishing in Chinese art”

  1. Ann Waltner Says:

    There is the famous fishing scene in Honglou meng. Here is an embroidery and a Yangliuqing print (probably both 19th century, but on an 18th century topic) noth representing the scene.
    http://redchamber.dash.umn.edu/Omeka/exhibits/show/nineteenth-century-responses/embroideryofscenes/waltnerryorkuceraembroidery

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Ann, thank you so much for that comment, it is fascinating that that scene in The Dream of the Red Chamber could be the source for at least some of those images. Regarding some narrative prints used as wallpaper at Saltram, I was recently advised by Yu-ping Luk (V&A) and Feng He (Heidelberg) that they appear to be scenes from The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. So looking into these literary sources seems a fruitful avenue of inquiry.

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