Amoy Chinqua was one of only two recorded Cantonese sculptors, or 'face-makers', working in the eighteenth century. The other was the better-known Chitqua, who worked in the third quarter of the century. Research into the clothing, hairstyle and official 'order' this figure is wearing, suggests that the figure should be dated somewhat after the famous figures provably by Chinqua, notably the splendid large figure of Joseph Collet in the National Portrait Gallery, London, dated 1716. This best-known Chinqua gentleman is modelled with a similar formal stance holding a cane and wearing a sword, and with an overall simplicity in the modelling apart from the personalised face. However, stylistically Mr. Collet dates somewhat earlier in the 18th century than the present lot; notably in the representation of the longer-tressed elaborate wig with a deep central 'parting' no longer popular by mid-century, as well as in the somewhat longer frockcoat, and the thigh-length boots with the feet cut square across the toes. Another figure, signed by Chinqua and dated 1720, smaller than both the Collet figure and the present lot and depicting an unidentified merchant, is exhibited in A Tale of Three Cities, Canton, Shanghai & Hong Kong, London, 1997, p.146, no.187.
Such figures were mainly commissioned by visiting merchants and naval officers connected to the European trading companies. Due to their very fragile nature, only few of these individually-commissioned 'painted plasterwork' figures have survived, although many collections contain examples of the 'nodding-head' types of figures, representing non-specific Chinese dignitaries and their consorts.
Although the actual individual depicted in the present lot has frustratingly not been recorded, there are two elements which may help to cast light on an identification. Firstly, the figure wears what appears to be a distinctive badge or order resembling a Maltese Cross. No order of this general design was known either in Britain or the Netherlands during the 18th century; however, it has been suggested that it does relate to the Danish order called the "Dannebrog" which might by this period have been awarded to a successful merchant in the service of the Danish East India Company. Secondly, it has been suggested that in three respects the presentation of the model suggests a Masonic connection; the use of a black and white chequerboard plinth on which he stands, the position of the feet, and the way in which the sword is placed; but the latter two elements may well be accidentally, rather than deliberately, Masonic in character.
In addition to the figure of Collet mentioned above, a figure of an unidentified European gentleman, exhibited at the Brighton Pavilion in 1986 and now in the Collection of the Peabody Museum, Salem, which is signed and dated 'Amoy Chinquafe (1)717' (sic), must be mentioned. This figure is illustrated by C. L. Crossman, op.cit., p.307, pl.182. Another smaller comparable figure dated to circa 1710-25, although unsigned and unattributed, is in the Victoria and Albert Museum, Chinese Export Art and Design, colour pl. 1 where it is illustrated together with its lacquered wood case. Other similar figures are illustrated by J. Huitfeldt, Ostindisk, Porselen i Norge, p.34, the figure of Peter Holter being particularly comparable to the present lot; and the group of five figures of men on the ship Kronprins Christian, which sailed to Canton from Denmark in 1731, which are now in the National Museum, Copenhagen, four of which are illustrated in Ethnographic Objects in The Royal Danish Kunstkammer 1650-1800, pp.179-180, nos.EBc255-258, and one is illustrated by C. L. Crossman ibid., p.313, colour pl.110. This latter group are all smaller in size, are all seated on chairs and wear real hair wigs, although they are comparable in other ways to the present lot.
It is of particular interest to compare the figure of Captain Beckman, which is in the National Museum, Copenhagen, and is illustrated in Kina og Danmark 1600-1950, figs.114 and 115. This figure, which is very similar to the present lot, was made on Captain Beckman's first visit to Canton in 1751-1753, but lacks the 'Maltese Cross' which the present figure wears. It is quite conceivable, therefore, that the present lot depicts one of Captain Beckman's fellow officers in the Danish Asiatic Company or is possibly even a portrait of Captain Beckman as an older man. Beckman died in 1771.
In many respects, this Chinqua figure is rather different from the style of the best-known and slightly later Chitqua portraits; here the stance is more routinely formal, the clothes less carefully individualised than in Chitqua's recorded oeuvre. Chitqua travelled to London in 1769 and during his two-year stay, he made a number of portrait figures including that of Dr. Anthony Askew, which is now in the Royal College of Physicians in London and is illustrated by C. L. Crossman, op.cit., p.311, pl.184, and by P. Conner, The China Trade, 1600-1860, p.49, no.58. During his stay in London, he also sculpted the actor David Merrick, and met the King and Queen, who reputedly sat for him; William Hickey, in his memoirs of circa 1775, mentions that he sat for a Chinese sculptor, which C. L. Crossman feels was undoubtedly Chitqua, ibid., p.314. This two-year visit is described by W. H. Whitley, Artists and Their Friends in England, 1928, vol.I, p.270, who records that Chitqua was paid ten guineas for each of his figures. One of these was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1770. Compare also the clay group of a mother and child in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, which is attributed to Chitqua and is illustrated by C. L. Crossman, ibid., p.310, pl.183.