Amongst the generous bequest to Leeds from Sir Alvary and Lady Gascoigne are this group of seven oil paintings, received in 1971. They are all show scenes from the Canton region, and they are all in similar oval frames, with outside dimensions of 280mm height and 236mm width. In 2007, when David Beevers from the Royal Pavilion in Brighton visited Leeds during research for their Chinese Whispers exhibition, he saw these paintings and helped us by asking Patrick Conner for his opinion. Patrick is a Chinese paintings expert at the firm of Martyn Gregory in London. His comments have been really useful as we prepared for the current Chinese Paintings exhibition at Lotherton Hall. He wrote:
‘They are all (as you know) Cantonese ‘export’ paintings of c. 1850, in a style often associated with an artist known to Westerners as Namcheong. The temple scenes do not represent any particular temple, so far as anyone has ever discovered, but the pagoda is at Whampoa (modern Huangbu), a dozen miles from the city of Canton (Guangzhou) : it would have been very familiar to the crews of the Western ships who were obliged to anchor alongside Whampoa Island for several months at a time!.. The remarkable thing about the group is not the paintings but the frames. From the colour of the gilding and the sharp carving of flowers etc they look as if they could be Chinese too, in which case I’ve never seen anything quite like them. If they are Cantonese, they will be light (Chinese pine), and the Chinese carpentry should be obvious from the back.’
Jenny Hack, our paintings conservator at Leeds, had already investigated one of the paintings, and revealed its canvas support. Ian Fraser, the furniture conservator, was also intrigued by the wooden frames. He agrees that they are Oriental, but maybe Japanese rather than Chinese. We do hope to analyse the wood scientifically in the future.