Chinese Artists

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Chinese painting of sailing ship.

Image courtesy of Liverpool Daily Post & Echo

I like the way Chinese artists have depicted the West over the centuries, particularly on ceramics and canvas.

Their work shows a fine delicacy which is charming as well as inspirational. Chinese marine art perhaps lacks the sense of movement captured by European artists but I am drawn in by the incredible technical detail.

A number of Chinese artists worked in Far East ports specialising in ship portraits for Western captains.

Several fine examples from the period 1850 to 1910 are on display in Merseyside Maritime Museum’s Art & the Sea gallery.

The artists generally painted on linen canvases which gave their works a very smooth appearance. Unfortunately the paint has often cracked over the years.

Most will be featured in the China, Shanghai and Liverpool exhibition at the new Museum of Liverpool opening later this year.

The sailing ship Maiden Queen is depicted by an unknown artist with a traditional junk cargo ship in the background. The painting is in its original lacquer frame.

Owned by T & J Brocklebank, Maiden Queen was employed in the tea trade sailing mainly to Hong Kong. She is seen off the Chinese coast. 

The Elizabeth Nicholson is another British ship painted by an unknown artist. She was built in 1863 in Dumfriesshire for the tea trade. She did one of the fastest runs from China in 1867-8 when she sailed from Foochow (Fuzhou) to London in 92 days.

Elizabeth Nicholson is pictured under full sail with a junk visible beneath the bowsprit.

The Scawfell off Hong Kong was painted by an artist in the Lai Sung studio active between 1850 and 1885. This tea clipper was constructed in 1858 for Rathbone Brothers of Liverpool who were involved in the China Trade.

Seen at anchor off Hong Kong, Scawfell made several record voyages. In 1861 she sailed from Whampoa (Huangpu) to Liverpool in 88 days.

Lai Sung was one of a handful of Hong Kong art studios producing ship portraits.

Anjer Head (artist unknown) is depicted at sea under full sail and steam. She was made in 1881 for Angier Brothers of London.

The Kwong Sang studio was active between 1890 and 1894, selling commissioned paintings in Calcutta. There has been a thriving Chinese community in the city since the late 18th century.

A Kwong Sang artist portrayed the four-masted iron barque Windermere (pictured) which voyaged from London or Hamburg to India, Australia and the Pacific. She was built in 1893 for Fisher and Sprott of London.

Some of the crew can be seen including the officer of the watch holding his telescope.

A new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo. A paperback – Mersey Maritime Tales (£3.99) – is available from the museum, newsagents and bookshops.