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A Hong-Kong Artist
Yale University, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
John Thomson, Illustrations of China and Its People, a Series of Two Hundred Photographs with Letterpress Description of the Places and People Represented, 4 vols. (London: Sampson Low, Marston Low, and Searle, 1873 [vols. 1 and 2] and 1874 [vols. 3 and 4]), Vol. 1
A Hong-Kong Artist
Lumqua was a Chinese pupil of Chinnery, a noted foreign artist, who died at Macao in 1852. Lumqua produced a number of excellent works in oil, which are still copied by the painters in Hong-Kong and Canton. Had he lived in any other country he would have been the founder of a school of painting. In China his followers have failed to grasp the spirit of his art. They drudge with imitative servile toil, copying Lumqua's or Chinnery's pieces, or anything, no matter what, just because it has been finished and paid for within a given time, and at so much a square foot. There are a number of painters established in Hong-Kong, but they all do the same class of work, and have about the same tariff of prices, regulated according to the dimensions of the canvas. The occupation of these limners consists mainly of making enlarged copies of photographs. Each house employs a touter, who scours the shipping in the harbour with samples of the work, and finds many ready customers among the foreign sailors. These bargain to have Mary or Susan painted on as large a scale and at as small a price as possible, the work to be delivered framed and ready for sea probably within twenty-four hours. The painters divide their labour on the following plan. The apprentice confines himself to bodies and hands, while the master executes the physiognomy, and thus the work is got through with wonderful speed. Attractive colours are freely used; so that Jack's fair ideal appears at times in a sky-blue dress, over which a massive gold chain and other articles of jewellery are liberally hung. These pictures would be fair works of art were the drawing good, and the brilliant colours properly arranged; but all the distortions of the badly taken photographs are faithfully reproduced on an enlarged scale. The best works these painters do are pictures of native and foreign ships, which are wonderfully drawn. To enlarge a picture they draw squares over their canvas corresponding to the smaller squares into which they divide the picture to be copied. The miniature painters in Hong-Kong and Canton do some work on ivory that is as fine as the best ivory painting to be found among the natives of India, and fit to bear comparison with the old miniature painting of our own country, which photography has, now-a-days, in great measure superseded.