Archive for October 5th, 2013

Lumqua, Hong Kong painter- John Thomson

I have come across this photo a number of times and have always lingered over it.  Maybe it’s just  professional curiosity, wondering how painters in other times and places worked in their studios.  But while I had seen this photo I had never really examined who the artist was.  It turns out he was named Lumqua and he was active in Hong Kong in the middle part of the 19th century.

This photo was taken in the early 1870’s by John Thomson and published in an 1873 book of photos and descriptions of the Chinese people.  Below is an excerpt that describes Lumqua.  The part that I find interesting is Thomson’s description of the groups of painters that would scour the Hong Kong docks trying to sell the sailors a finished painting that reproduced a photo they might possess so that they might have a larger, color image of their loved one to take home as a souvenir.  They offered a 24 hour tunaround.  Thomson’s description of how they divided the work on these pieces so that they could quickly and ably finish this task foreshadows the current businesses that turn out cheap paintings in the thousands to be sold around the country in  local Holiday Inns at so-called  Starving Artist sales.

This is the description that Thomson attached to this photo:

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.

So I know a little more about this photo.  I still have questions about he worked, wondering if his studio was really as organized as this photo.  My studio is never so tidy.  Oh, well…

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