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Chinnery exhibition reflects his impressions of the East

A selection of more than 180 works in oils, watercolours and sketches by George Chinnery will be presented at the Hong Kong Museum of History from tomorrow (June 22) to August 29, giving viewers a glimpse of the Orient of the 19th century.

The exhibition, “Impressions of the East: The Art of George Chinnery”, was opened today (June 21) by the Secretary for Home Affairs Dr Patrick Ho Chi-ping, the Executive Director of The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited, Mr Peter Wong, the Chairman of the Committee on Museums, Dr Philip Wu Po-him, and the Director of Leisure and Cultural Services, Ms Anissa Wong Sean-yee.

Among the many Western artists visiting the Pearl River Delta in the 19th century, the English artist George Chinnery (1774-1852) enjoyed unparalleled status. In terms of artistry, reputation, influence and the length of residence, Chinnery stood out from his contemporaries.

He transformed everyday life along the South China coast in the early 19th century into magnificent works of art that immortalise this period of time in stunning detail. His works served for both artistic appreciation and visual documentation of the Pearl River Delta, exemplifying the communication and cultural exchange between East and West.

This year marks the 180th anniversary of Chinnery’s arrival in South China in 1825. This exhibition is organised to pay tribute to the artist, his art, his life and his times. The works are selected from some 20 lenders, including local and overseas public institutions and private collectors, making this exhibition one of the most important presentations of Chinnery’s works in recent years.

The exhibition is jointly presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited, and jointly organised by Hong Kong Museum of History and Hong Kong Museum of Art.

The works on display were selected from various local and overseas collections including those from the Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hongkong and Shanghai Bank, HSBC Holdings plc, Peabody Essex Museum, Jardine Matheson Limited, Mari-Cha Collection Limited, Macao Museum of Art, Martyn Gregory Gallery, London, and other private collectors.

George Chinnery was born on January 5, 1774, in London. His grandfather William Chinnery senior was a celebrated penman; his father William Chinnery was a “writing master and accomptant”, an exponent of Thomas Gurney’s system of shorthand. Chinnery inherited from this family tradition the gift of calligraphy and the art of shorthand which he later on applied extensively to his drawings and sketches.

Chinnery’s artistic career can be divided into three periods. He received classical training in Royal Academy Schools and was the follower of the portrait painter Joshua Reynolds. By 1802, he had earned early reputation as a portrait painter in Ireland.

Chinnery stayed in India for 23 years - from 1802 to 1825. In Madras, he explored various avenues. In addition to miniatures and portrait drawings, he produced a series of topographical etchings on temples and mosques, boatmen, water-carriers and palanquin bearers. The grand portrait of the Kirkpatrick Children that Chinnery painted finally made him the principal Western artist in India. Yet his double embarrassments - his wife and his debts - forced him to desert fame and status and head for a new start in South China where he spent his remaining years, from 1825 to 1852.

Chinnery settled in Macao in his last years and produced many works. He spent much time exploring the exotic landscape and his favourite subjects ranged from the Praya Grande and the forts, junks mooring along the coast, churches and temples, markets and streets, the grand Western houses and the makeshift dwellings of the fisherfolk, itinerant vendors and barbers, blacksmiths and boatwomen. He also made regular visits to Guangzhou and produced a number of oil paintings on the factories and the river forts.

As a notable portrait painter, Chinnery was popular among the expatriate community, and his new clientele included the Hong merchants in Guangzhou. In Guangzhou, Chinnery would have founded a number of studios to cater for the growing demand for China trade paintings, a new art genre and a thriving business. In particular, his oil paintings provided a fresh impetus to the Chinese export paintings which attracted and influenced followers and rivals alike.

In support of the exhibition, a seminar on “George Chinnery – Commemorating the 180th Anniversary of his arrival in South China” will be held tomorrow (June 22) at 5.30pm. Renowned scholars will explain Chinnery’s artistic styles and the historical background of his paintings. Speakers include the Director of Martyn Gregory Gallery, London, Dr Patrick Conner, conservator Mr Alan Bradford, the Council Member of the Hong Kong Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Ms Valery Garett, Research Fellow of the Macao Ricci Institute, Mr Cesar Guillen, the Demonstrator of Department of Fine Arts, the University of Hong Kong, Mr Jack Lee, and member of the Hong Kong Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Mr Geoffrey Bonsall. Conducted in English, the seminar will be held in the Lecture Hall of the Museum of History. Admission is free and 150 seats are available on a first-come, first-served basis. For details, please call 2724 9034.

In addition, a fully illustrated catalogue is now available at the Gift Shop of the Museum of History.

The Museum of History is located at 100 Chatham Road South, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. It opens from 10am to 6pm from Monday to Saturday and from 10 am to 7 pm on Sundays and public holidays. It is closed on Tuesdays (except public holidays). Admission is $10 and a half-price concession is available to full-time students, senior citizens and people with disabilities. Admission is free on Wednesdays.

For details of the exhibition, please visit the Museum of History's website at or call 2724 9042.

Ends/Tuesday, June 21, 2005

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