There is a pencil and grey wash drawing of the same subject by Thomas Daniell in a private collection. The present picture is the smaller of Thomas Daniell's two views of Canton. The larger picture, originally in the collection of Warren Hastings at Daylesford House (Christie's, 6 April 1998, lot 265) shows the European Factories or Hongs from the south-east (see fig.1).
Thomas Daniell and his young nephew William visited China twice: on their way to India in 1785, and on their return to England from India in 1793. The first leg of their passage to Calcutta in 1785 was made on the Indiaman Atlas which left them at Whampoa in August 1785. They remained in China, visiting Macao and Canton, before taking a coasting vessel to Calcutta in the spring of 1786. They returned to China, after their famous tour of India, in 1793, seeking a safe passage home to England during the war with France and were recorded in Canton from September 1793 until March the following year, joining the convoy of Lord Macartney, returning to England with his embassy in 1794.
Thomas and William both worked up Chinese subjects in the years following their return. William produced four large pictures of Canton (Hong Kong Museum of Art; Yale Centre for British Art, Paul Mellon collection; Victoria Memorial, Calcutta; and private collection) to add to the two works by his uncle discussed above. Both artists also produced similar views of Whampoa (see note to the following lot). These Chinese pictures, preceded only by John Webber's few Chinese views taken on Cook's third voyage (1779-80), form the earliest major western pictorial record of China.
Western trading with China began in the early sixteenth century, the Portugese establishing trading posts or 'factories' at Ningpo, Foochow, Amoy, Canton and Macao. Other European nations followed, British trading beginning with the charter granted to the Hon. East India Company in 1600. The Company first established a site on the riverside at Canton in 1684, and by the time of the Daniells' visit in the mid 1780s, dominated the trade.
The Chinese had maintained tight controls over the foreigners at Canton, limiting them to the waterfront where their factories were built outside the city walls. They had to deal exclusively with the small group of merchants sanctioned by the Imperial Government, the thirteen members of the Co-Hong, and were not allowed to stay in Canton in the business season: 'In 1771, the company succeeed in purchasing permission to reside at Canton during the winter months (the business season) instead of coming and going with their ships. After the business season the supercargoes (agents of the Company or ships), now established in separate factories allotted to the several nationalities, were annually compelled to return to Macao or home. The ships arrived towards the end of the S.W. monsoon (April to September) and left during the N.E. monsoon (October to March). In 1771 the Co-Hong system was abolished and replaced, in 1782, by the 'Hong Merchants' who had the monopoly of foreign trade and were responsible for the payments due by, and for the personal conduct of, all foreigners.' (J. Orange, The Chater Collection, Pictures relating to China, Hong Kong, Macao, 1655-1860, London, 1924, p.39.)
The Daniells' views of Canton show the waterfront, the focus of trade between China and the West, as it was in 1785, just one year after the Americans ('second-chop Englishmen' as distinguished by the Chinese) were granted an independent concession. The western community were then attempting to negotiate with the Imperial Government over punitive tariff charges, a situation which prompted the arrival of Lord Macartney's embassy to Ch'ien Lung in 1792 and with it, the artist William Alexander who would go on to produce the first western views of the Chinese interior.