The Empress, seated in a high-ceilinged pavilion, is entertained by elegant female musicians, while other figures approach bearing gifts or wait in the garden with their offerings. Figures listen from terraces across the water and at the far left an attendant pulls the pigtail of his napping companion.
This ambitious subject, like other favored China trade compositions produced by the leading Canton artists' studios, was rendered in both oil paint and gouache. C. Crossman, The China Trade, p. 172, illustrates a large-scale gouache version he attributes to Lamqua's studio, together with its companion showing the Emperor enthroned in state, calling them "...of extraordinary high quality and superb colouring, clearly illustrat(ing) the great competence of the very best China trade artist."
Another gouache pair was offered Christie's London, 15 November 2000, lot 201. An oil version of the present picture, slightly smaller, from the collection of the Hong Kong Museum of Art, was exhibited in Late Qing China Trade Paintings, 9 July 1982 to 22 August 1982, cat. no. 5.
The Imperial Court, whether at leisure or on official occasions, was a subject of endless fascination to Westerners in China, who were only able to catch rare glimpses of life inside the palace walls. Like large-scale oils of Macartney's Imperial reception or the Emperor's military encampments, the present picture provided a coveted window into a wholly exotic world, and thus had great dramatic impact once back home, gracing the walls of a Philadelphia or London townhouse.