Sussex auctioneers Gorringes sold a ‘very large’ 18th century Chinese scroll last week for a very respectable £110,000, against a pre-sale estimate of £60,000-80,000. In the context of this week’s Asian Art in London hoopla, they issued a separate Asian catalogue for those lots of Far Eastern origin in their antiques and collectibles sale.
The thoroughness with which the catalogue entry for the scroll was prepared must have contributed to the substantial price achieved. It is something of a model for the way such an entry might be prepared in a bid to extract the best price for an object. Although a large international auction house might catalogue a very significant item in such detail, it is unusual for an auctioneer outside the capital. The full entry can be found below. Other auctioneers might like to take note! Congratulations to Gorringes.
Lot 648 A fine and early Chinese scroll painting of the Hongs of Guangzhou (Canton), gouache on silk, c.1770, of unusually large size, painted with an early view of the European factories on Hog Lane, with the Danish, French, Swedish, English, and Dutch flags aloft with European and Chinese traders and officials outside, the Creek to the East of the Dutch factory, the foreground depicting numerous moored Chinese junks and trading vessels including a pleasure craft inscribed ‘Mingyang’ to the rear, gouache on silk laid on a paper scroll,
image 91.5cm x 276.5 cm. Estimate £60,000-80,000
Provenance: Acquired by Alexander Hume, Supercargo with the Honourable East India Company in Canton (1758-64) and then Chief of the factory (1770-73), and thence by family descent.
Alexander Hume served in the Honourable East India Company for many years, with documents held in the East India Library stating that he was “third in council at Calcutta.” and then “was for many years the Chief of an English Factory at Canton”. The painting, which dates from around 1770 was probably commissioned by Hume around the time of his promotion to Chief of the factory. The date is confirmed by the as yet un-widened path separating the factories from the waterfront and the white Bourbon family flag, representing the French Hong, which was changed to the familiar tricolour in 1790.
The Career of Alexander Hume.
Alexander Hume served in the Honourable East India Company. The pedigree states that he “was for many years the Chief of an English Factory at Canton and third in Council at Calcutta”, but gives no dates. On October 8, 1993, the vendor visited the India Office Library to search for evidence of Alexander’s service in Canton, and if possible to find out when he was there. The records of the English Factory was are under the serial no. R/10. In document R/10/4. Diary and Consultations 1755-60. He found the following first mention of Alexander Hume:-
Consultations of Henry Palme John Burrow, George Mandevile. Thos. Lockwood. Robt Macket, Alexander Hume. Willm. Mackenzie, Joseph Harrington, Francis Wood & James Flint appointed supracargoes to transact the affairs of the Honble. United East India Company for the year 1758. “Consultations” were the detailed transactions between ships and the Company, which was represented by a “supracargo” who evidently went on board to supervise and document the loading and unloading of goods at the anchorage off Whampoa Island. In R/10/5 we find that on June 17, 1759:- Mr Hume, on board the Wichelsea’, informed us of the death of Mr Macket
Consultations and letters were generally signed by many or all of the supracargoes, so presumably one can get an idea of rank from the order of the signatures. A consultation dated July 4, 1759, is signed “Thos. Lockwood, Alex Hume, Francis Wood”, but it seems that by 1764, after five or six years in the job, Alex Hume was fourth or fifth in rank. In January 1765 he “took his passage to England in the Latham”, but whether this was on leave or termination in of his appointment we do not yet know. However, he returned to Canton in 1770, for in the Letter Book 1770-74(?) R/10/7 Alex Hume heads the list of signatories to a letter dated November 20, addressed to the “Hon Council of Directors per ship Earl of Middlesex”. He must have taken over as Chief of the factory shortly before this, as the first signature on the previous letter, dated October 19 is “Steph. De Nisme. Alex Hume was evidently Chief for at least the next three years, but on January 10, 1774 we find:- Mr Hume takes his passage for Europe on board the Prime.
Whether this was final retirement, or a spell of leave I have yet to discover. In the following Letter Book for 1775-79 (R/108), there are no letters with his signature.
The vendor visited the India office Library again on November 12.1993. He found on the open shelves. printed volumes of transcripts of correspondence between Fort William (Calcutta) and India House in London. From the indexes to the various volumes I found the following references to Hume:- Vol.I
Alexander Hume, Director of the EIC 1737-48. January 23, 1754. Supracargoos appointed for China, for the ships ‘Lord Anson’ and ‘Triton’: Messrs John Misenor, John Burrow. Alexander Hume, John Maplecroft. November 29, 1754. Supracargoes appointed this season for the ‘Bombay Castle’ and ‘Prince of Wales’: John Misenor, Samuel Harrison and Alexander Hume, who were directed to continue in China for the year 1755. December 29, 1756. Alexander Hume appointed Commander of the ‘Fox’ for consignments in the Coast and Bay. vol. II March 25, 1757. Alexunder Hume appointed Commander of the Fox’ in the Coast and Bay. November 11, 1757. The Company had decided to set up a permanent station in China to replace the numbers of separate commissions from Calcutta which had been found inconvenient. The following twelve supracargoes were appointed:-
CHIEFS Henry Palmer 1st in council John Burrow 2nd ” ” George Mandeville 3rd ” ” Thomas Lockwood 4th ” ”
SECONDS Robert Macket 5th ” ” Alexander Hume 6th ” ” Richard Paisley 7th ” ” William Mackenzie 8th ” ”
THIRDS Joseph Harrington 9th ” ” Francis Wood 10th ” ” John Hull 11th ” ” James Flint 12th ” ”
December 31, 1760. Alexander Hume appointed Captain of the ‘Fox’. He left Ingellee to proceed on a voyage to Fort St George on January 31. 1762. September 30, 1761. All supracargoes reappointed to the China Council for 1763. December 17, 1762. All supracargoes reappointed for 1764. December 30, 1763. All supracargoes reappointed for “the ensuing season”.
November 11, 1768. Capt Hume and the ‘Fox’ sailed for Bombay November 10, 1769. Alexander Hume appointed this “season”, head supracargo in Canton and Resident in China for 1771
January 4, 1771. Alexander Hume appointed Resident for 1772. # December 18, 1771. Alexander Hume appointed Resident for 1773 December 11, 1772, Alexander Hume appointed Resident for 1774.
No references to Hume.
April 28, 1786. Alexander Hume obtained a licence to proceed to India as a Free Mariner. April 27, 1792. (Letter to the Council from Fort William.) Proscription order against Capt Mackintosh and three officers, including Alexander Hume, for flagrant delinquency on the ship ‘Fitzwilliam’
These records broadly confirm the previous findings about Alexander Hume’s years of service in Canton. His period as “third in council in Calcutta” almost certainly refers to the time before the establishment of the permanent station Canton in 1757. He was presumably absent from Calcutta during the revolt in 1756.
Clearly the first extract from Vol I refers to the uncle of our Alexander, who was MP for Southwark and elder brother of the first baronet Sir Abraham Hume. It was probably through him that his nephew received an appointment in the Company. A possible confusion arises over the Alexander Hume who was Captain of the ‘Fox’. We see from the family that Alexander had two first cousins with the same name. One of these was a son of the first baronet, Sir Abraham, and the other was son of Robert Hume, brother of Sir Abraham. and of our Alexander’s father, Peter, and also of the Alexander who was a Director of the HEIC.
In the card-index in the India office Library there is the entry:-
Alexander Hume, died November 11,1800 buried St. Laurence. Wormley, Herts. Cmdr. EIC Maritime Service. Cousin-german of Sir Abraham Hume. Bart
After the vendor’s first visit to the Library he assumed that this referred to our Alexander, but following further investigations into parish records in England, was sure that this Alexander was Captain of the ‘Fox’ and the son of Robert. It was probably also he who obtained the ‘free mariner” licence for a trip to India in 1786.
It is inconceivable that either of these Alexanders was the delinquent on the ‘Fitzwilliam in 1792: However, our Alexander did have a son named Alexander by his frst wife,Ann (Anna?) Boughton, who might have been the culprit.Literature: for a similar view almost certainly by the same artist see Conner, Patrick., ‘The Hongs of Canton’ (English Art Books, London, 2009), pp.42-43, pl. 2.17 and pl. 2.18.
According to Carl L. Crossman in his book Decorative Arts of the China Trade, 1991, there are similar paintings in the Peabody collection, Museum of Salem and the British Museum. He notes that the porch supports of the British Factory are still slender columns and not the enclosed arches with columns of the 1780s. In common with these two scrolls the Alexander Hume scroll is impressive in size and extremely accurate in detail and delicate in palette.
The image itself is in reasonable condition, with a number of creases running horizontally left to right particularly around the centre of the picture, there are some very occasional tiny flake losses to the paint to each of the flags, to areas of the Danish Hong on the left and to the figures on the walkway to the right of this, there is some slight paint loss to the boats next to the walkway a quarter of the way from the left edge of the scroll, there is some slight paint loss along a crease running along the arched colonnade of the upper tier of the Swedish Hong heading down diagonally across a Chinese Hong in the centre, there is smaller paint loss to the crease running across the British Hong at the top of the doorway across toward the Dutch Hong, there is a 11.5cm tear to the crease at the very right hand edge of the image level with the roof line above the creek to the east of the Dutch factory and some paint loss to the building in the creek, there is a later black speckled drip mark running in the sky above the Dutch Hong, approximately 26.5cm and a little bit more of a black speckle high in the sky two thirds of the way from the left of the image, there are a few black speckles in the water in front of the British Hong and some other occasional light staining and marking all over. The sea green painted silk laid on paper border has some occasional small holes and tears running from left to right three quarters of the length of the scroll, the last quarter there are considerable losses and detached pieces to the border particularly on the very right hand side, we do have the pieces but they are very brittle. Ideally the purchaser would have the picture framed and mounted to conceal the damage to the border. Please see numerous extra photographs on our website which give a clearer idea of condition.
Descriptions provided in both printed and on-line catalogue formats do not include condition reports. The absence of a condition statement does not imply that the lot is in perfect condition or completely free from wear and tear, imperfections or the effects of aging. Interested bidders are strongly encouraged to request a condition report on any lots upon which they intend to bid, prior to placing a bid. All transactions are governed by Gorringes Conditions of Sale.
Sold for £110,000