qocsuing: The first portrait of China's feared empress dowager

The first portrait of China's feared empress dowager

21 Mar 2023 at 07:25pm
The first portrait of China's feared empress dowager

At 11 o'clock on a warm summer's morning in 1903, 38-year-old artist Katharine Augusta Carl was ushered into the throne room of the Summer Palace, on the western outskirts of Beijing.To get more news about gobulo wanrong, you can visit shine news official website.

67-year-old Empress Dowager Cixi, who had effectively controlled China for more than 40 years, entered with her chief lady-in-waiting and interpreter Princess Der Ling, an ambassador's daughter who had spent time in Europe and US.

By Cixi's side, as always, was the Guangxu Emperor who, though technically the 10th sovereign of the Qing dynasty, acquiesced in all matters to the empress dowager.Dressed in her ceremonial gown, Cixi was assisted onto the Dragon Throne by her attendant eunuchs while the ladies of the court fussed with her robe and headdress and Carl prepared her easel next to a table with paints, brushes, rags, turpentine, palette knives, and all the other tools of the portrait painter's trade.

Positioned and comfortable, the two women eyed each other across the room. The empress dowager nodded, and the painter made her first stroke on the blank canvas.Over nine long months several portraits would be attempted. The main life-size image was to be China's sole entry in the Fine Arts Pavilion at the 1904 World's Fair, in St Louis, Missouri, and presented thereafter to US president Theodore Roosevelt.

Today it hangs in Washington's Smithsonian museum. But the story of how an American artist came to be invited to the Qing imperial court to paint the most famous and reclusive woman in China is less well known.

Sarah Pike Conger, the wife of the American ambassador to China, Edwin H Conger, heard Carl was in Shanghai visiting her brother, who worked for the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs, and knew of her growing reputation as a portrait painter.

Pike Conger also knew that no likeness of Cixi, not painting nor photograph, existed. American and European newspapers regularly portrayed the dowager as either a conniving witch or hectoring dragon lady.

The Congers were important figures in Beijing's diplomatic circles, having survived the Boxer rebellion at the turn of the 20th century and the resultant siege of the legations.

Pike Conger had become known as the "grand dame" of the Legation Quarter, defying her husband by making friends with the empress, who was vilified by the foreign community for having encouraged the Boxer "rebels".

Pike Conger devised the notion of persuading the empress dowager to have her portrait painted for the first time, and suggested Carl as the ideal artist having studied painting at Tennessee Female College and then in Paris.

She specialised in portraits and had exhibited in London, Paris and Chicago. Perhaps most importantly, she was already in China.

The bureaucratic wheels turned slowly but, after much consulting of astrological almanacs, Carl was told to present herself at the Summer Palace on Aug 5, 1903, prepared to begin painting at 11am. She agreed, and set out for Beijing.

In those days it took several hours to journey from the American Legation out to the Summer Palace.A Chinese honour guard met them outside the city walls to escort them 25km to their destination, and Carl and Pike Conger, accompanied by a Marine Guard, headed west.

Add comment

Guest are not allowed to add blog comments. Please sign in.


Your rate: 0
Total: 0 (0 votes)