A fine detailed view is summoned forth in this historic oil painting of Victoria and the Port of Hong Kong Island by a Chinese artist in the last quarter of the 19th Century, circa 1865. Ships, architecture and the natural wonder of the island country of the South China Sea all take a prominent role in this composition. Set under the blue sky with low rolling clouds reflecting a luminous glow, a moment is well spent just admiring the artistry before delving into the factual content.
Victoria Peak is topped with the flag tower, installed in 1861. Of note, there is an American Flag flying secondary on the array, likely signifying a visitor of some stature. Three American ships are in the harbor at anchor, with a traditional sailing clipper featured in the center. An ocean going sidewheel steamer is far aft, while a steam/sail vessel - the majority of the vessels in the scene are this type - is at anchor three ships before the clipper. Two ships of French nationality, and at least five others flying British ensigns add to the count. The British Government House and St. John’s Cathedral are showing flags as well an unidentified large building to the left amongst the numerous Western warehouses and residences. Several Chinese ships are in view, including four aligned near the channel between Victoria and Lan Tau Island.
The detail present makes this an exceptional work with international appeal, set in its original carved Chinese Chippendale frame. This and the rise of the buildings up the vertical elevation of Victoria Peak help estimate the date of the painting. This is a beautiful look at Hong Kong Island’s timeless appeal and significance in the world of international commerce.
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