Alongside the 96 paintings were three fine gouache paintings, depicting famous scenes namely, The Boca Tigris, Whampoa and Canton. Af Chapman's brother Charles was a captain in the Swedish East India Company and therefore most likely brought the paintings back for his brother.

a11 Fredric Henric af Chapman’s Skärfva Manor, said by a visitor to be a cross between ‘a palace and a cabin’, upon completion 1786. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia, H. Sendelbach.

a2 Boca Tigris, gouache on canvas, 51x93cm, provenance Skärfva Manor, image courtesy of Uppsala Auktionskammare

On 24th February Thomas Watson Auctioneers offered in their Fine Sale a small golden nugget of Chinese history. Spotting it on Barneby's, my heart skipped a beat. A very familiar scene. I have studied the collections at Skärfva Manor since I was reading history of art at Uppsala University and more recently surrounding the sale mentioned above, and lusted after Chinese export art since discovering it at Stockholms Auktionsverk years ago. So twenty odd years later it was my turn. With a limited budget, the larger more impressive views were out of my reach, but no matter. This little gem is evocative of the whole history of the China trade and the bloody battles of the Opium wars. It links my memories of life in Hong Kong together with the thought of treasures of tea, silk, spices and porcelain filling the creaking bowels of the Eastindiamen as they returned through the choppy waters of the South China Sea. For me, it would have to do.

Mistakenly catalogued as an oil of Danes Island from Whampoa, it is the view of the narrow channel called Boca Tigris or Tiger's Mouth. Due to shifting sandbanks and swift currents it was most precarious, and all ships had to pass through it to reach Whampoa, the major port where a multitude of ships could anchor next to eachother. The diminutive painting, measuring only 11x16cm may be considerably smaller than the Skärvfa equivalent, but still depicts the same memorable scene. In the foreground there are a number of smaller local vessels, and in the distance two larger Eastindiamans, their nation's flags obscured by years of grime. Some gentle cleaning is in order.

View of the Boca Tigris, circa 1820, oil on canvas, 11x16cm. Image courtesy of Thomas Watson Auctioneers View of the Boca Tigris, circa 1820, oil on canvas, 11x16cm. Image courtesy of Thomas Watson Auctioneers

Danes Island at Whampoa became the temporary home for the English, French, Swedes, Danes and Dutch (amongst others) for months as their incoming cargo was paintakingly catalogued by Chinese officials, and then transported the last stretch of the perilous Pearl River by small sampan boats. They had store houses and living quarters set up there and there are many contemporary accounts of life in the camps at Whampoa and struggles with security against fierce pirates. Danes Island was one of the few islands used for foreign burials amongst other things, if one had the bad luck of passing away whilst out there. These can still be viewed today, although they are completely overgrown.

A view of Whampoa anchorage from Dane’s Island, oil on copper, circa 1810, image courtesy of Wikipedia A view of Whampoa anchorage from Dane’s Island, oil on copper, circa 1810, image courtesy of Wikipedia

Further upriver were the Hongs, where the various nations put up their permanent trading houses. Sadly these burnt down in 1822, leaving few traces behind. The fire, started by a baker, spread rapidly as Chinese officials banned the Europeans from rushing in to put out the fire. The Hongs were rebuilt twice and twice engulfed by fire again.

Canton Fire of 1822, image courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum Canton Fire of 1822, image courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum

A number of magnificent views of Boca Tigris, Whampoa and the Hongs at Canton have come up recently, but for sums far greater than the small painting mentioned above. Nevertheless it is just as evocative, suggesting the exciting wait for the crew to see what lay ahead, the gruelling process with the customs officials, and the slow advance up to Canton where great riches awaited for the ambitious Supercargoes, Captains and the private trader.

I can't wait to receive my little painting. As my colleague and fellow enthusiast Kee Il Choi, Jr. pointed out, 'Well done Anna! A little Boca Tigris goes a very long way!'

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