Painting of Hong Kong, China

In the early 19th century, the Chinese did not permit foreigners in mainland China, so Europeans or Americans wishing to conduct business with Chinese merchants had to travel to specially designated Chinese ports. Hong Kong, or "Fragrant Harbor," was a treaty port granted to the British in 1842 as a result of the Opium Wars.
This busy scene from ca. 1860 by Chinese artist Taicheong depicts several foreign ships at anchor as they await their next cargo. Colonnaded hongs or factories (warehouses and living quarters) line the shore several deep, right up to the foot of Victoria Peak. Chinese port paintings such as this one executed by Chinese artist Taicheong were produced in large numbers as souvenirs for the foreign sea traders who visited the port.
The vessel in the foreground of the painting is an American three-masted square-rigged ship; its prominence may hint at the painting's owner. Just behind it is a large British warship, converted to a storage hulk or receiving ship where men and cargo could be stationed. There are four little English steamships as well as a Danish one, and a French brig rounds out the foreign fleet. Chinese junks and sampans also move around the busy scene. Off to the far right there is even a sizeable American sidewheel paddle steamer painted white, identifiable by its hogging truss bridging its upper deck, the distinctive paddle box and other features.
Currently not on view
Object Name
painting, oil
date made
ca 1860
Physical Description
oil on canvas (overall material)
mounted on panel (overall production method/technique)
without frame: 17 in x 29 in; 43.18 cm x 73.66 cm
with frame: 21 3/4 in x 34 in; 55.245 cm x 86.36 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Cigna Maritime Collection
See more items in
Work and Industry: Maritime
Cigna Maritime Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of CIGNA Museum and Art Collection

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