1753, Paris - 1809
Canvas, 92 x 71 cm
Inscribed upper left in Chinese script by the artist
Painted in November 1793
Remarkable as a rare instance of an eighteenth-century portrait of a Chinese sitter by a European artist, this highly unusual painting depicts Lum A’Kao, who came to London in 1793 from Canton, as the secretary of Charles Constant de Rebecque (1762–1835). Swiss-born, son of Samuel and Charlotte Pictet, Constant de Rebecque studied in Lausanne, Geneva and London. He was a merchant and acted as an agent for the British East India Company. He travelled extensively including three voyages to China between 1779 and 1793, earning himself the nickname ‘Charles le Chinois’. His diaries and notes provide not only a detailed account of his travels but also precious information on business and trade relationships with China. He came back to Europe in 1793 and settled in London and Geneva where he worked as a banker. His cousin, Henri Benjamin de Constant de Rebeque (1767-1830) was the famous French-Swiss political thinker and novelist.
During his first trip to Canton, Charles de Constant, aged 16, met A’Kao, 11 years old and took him into service. During his second trip in 1789 Constant took him again into his service. In his diary Constant de Rebecque describes A’Kao as ‘intelligent, good natured and lively’. Danloux executed his portrait in London in November of 1793, where the artist had settled after fleeing the Revolution. Danloux had the portrait published as a print by Joseph Grozer (c. 1755–1798), undoubtedly to enable the wider distribution of this striking and unusual image (see fig. 1). Grozer’s mezzotint is lettered below the image with a dedication to ‘Mr. Chas. Constant de Rebecque’. The print is also datable to the same year.
The Chinese characters inscribed in the upper left corner of the painting were by Danloux himself, their lack of fluidity perhaps due to his unfamiliarity with Chinese script and his use of a brush laden with paint rather than ink. The first two characters, Pan Shan in Mandarin, signify the place where the sitter is from, a town in the province of Canton; the third character, Lin in Mandarin is the sitter’s surname (Lum or Lam in Cantonese); the last two characters, Ya Jiu in Mandarin or A’Kao in Cantonese, is his informal name, used as a familiar or private term. Thus Lum A’Kao written as 林亞九is his name in Cantonese and番山 (or香山, depending on how the first character is deciphered) corresponds with Euhun Sang, the place name adopted in the print.
It appears that Constant de Rebecque was an old friend of Danloux, a connection which might explain how the portrait came to be painted. The relationship between the sitter and Constant de Rebecque is confirmed by Danloux’s wife, Marie-Pierrette-Antoinette de Saint-Redan (1765–1844), who later noted that she had received a letter from Mme de Sérilly, a family friend, brought to her by M. Constant ‘master of the Chinese man whose portrait my husband painted’. 1
A’Kao was the subject of much fascination in London. The encounter between A’Kao and King George III, which occurred in London on 23 June 1793, is vividly brought to life in a diary entry by Constant de Rebecque, who noted: ‘Le Roi, l’apercevant, dit: What, what, Chinaman, Chinaman, How do you do, How do you do? Lui s’est incliné en disant: Chin Chin…’.2
Danloux trained in the studio of Joseph-Marie Vien (1716–1809), the French academic painter and promoter of neo-classical ideals, whose pupils in the 1770s included the man who would become the pre-eminent painter of the French Republic, Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825). In 1775 Danloux, like David, followed Vien to Rome on his teacher’s appointment to the directorship of the Académie de France. While in Italy he travelled to different artistic centres, already showing a talent for portraiture and a predilection in his work for informality and intimacy. Danloux left Italy in 1783, though he was to return to Rome later in the decade, settling in Lyon before moving to Paris two years later. In the capital his sitters were largely the aristocracy, foremost among them members of the royal family – Mme Elisabeth and the Dauphin – whose portraits he was commissioned to paint the very same year that the regime crumbled. Danloux remained loyal to the monarchy, emigrating to London in 1792.
Danloux lived through a period of unparalleled social and political upheaval. While in exile in Britain during the tumultuous years in the aftermath of the French Revolution, Danloux found a receptive clientele among the French émigré community and obtained from them notable portrait commissions. Influenced at the time by contemporary British portraitists, foremost among them George Romney (1734–1802), Danloux moved towards a more restrained elegance. He excelled in family group portraits and portraits of children, for instance, The Masters Foster, 1792 (formerly in the collection of Sir James Bowker), which he exhibited at the Royal Academy the same year that he painted this portrait of Lum A’Kao. His success as a portraitist led him to work outside London. In 1796 a commission to paint the exiled French heir to the throne, Charles-Philippe de France, comte d’Artois, at the palace of Holyrood, brought him to Scotland. His portrait, now at the Musée du Château, Versailles, albeit executed on a smaller scale than the present work, is comparable in setting, for it too shows the sitter against a background of sky and clouds. Other major works of the period include the beautiful group portrait of the family of the 3rd Duke of Buccleuch, at Bowhill, begun in 1796 and dated 1798; and the heroic naval portrait of Admiral Duncan, 1st Viscount Duncan of Camperdown, 1798, formerly at Camperdown House, Dundee, and now at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh.
In 1801, during Napoleon Bonaparte’s rule as First Consul, Danloux was back in Paris, where he painted fewer portraits and instead turned his attention to painting history subjects, with mixed success. His greatest achievements were in the realm of portraiture. He also continued with the series of portraits of artists and figures from the theatre that he had begun before the Revolution. Of the portraits executed by Danloux during his stay in London, the present painting is undoubtedly one of the most remarkable due to its exceptionally high quality and its appropriately spare evocation of the appearance of this foreign sitter.
1See De Portalis 1910, p. 202.
2See Vargas 1939, p. 42 and Dermigny, 1964, p. 97.
Collection of the artist and by descent to his son, in whose possession still in 1860
Anonymous sale (‘Mme X’), Paris, Galerie Charpentier, 31 March 1938, reproduced
Baronne Cassel van Doorn, her sale, Paris, Galerie Charpentier, 30 May 1956, lot 29
Hubert de Givenchy
Private Collection, Ireland
Paris, 26, Boulevard des Italiens, Tableaux et dessins de l’école française, principalement du XVIIIe siècle, tirés de collections d’amateurs, November 1860, no. 371.
Dictionnaire général des artistes de l’école française…, E. Bellier de la Chavignerie and L. Auvray (eds), vol. 1, Paris 1882, p. 336.
R. Portalis, Henri-Pierre Danloux, peintre de portraits et son journal durant l’émigration (Paris 1753–1809), Paris 1910, p. 202, reproduced on p. 204, after Grozer’s print.
C. de Constant, Récit de trois voyages à la Chine (1779–1793), P. de Vargas (ed.), Peking 1939, p. 10 and pp. 41–43.
C. de Constant, Les mémoires de Charles de Constant : sur le commerce à la Chine, Louis Dermigny, Paris, 1964, pp. 49-50, 73, 97, 113.
J. Terrade & L. Dermigny, “Les mémoires de C. de Constant sur le commerce à la Chine” in Revue française d’histoire d’outre-mer, vo. 52, no. 188-189, 1965, pp. 447-450.
J. Grozer, mezzotint