‘The Chinese Drawings’ (SLIV 63 Sterling Library) are atypical of the kind of material that Sir Louis Sterling collected but on seeing these exquisite drawings it is easy to understand why he wanted them. The printed catalogue of Sterling’s collection, published in 1954, describes them simply as ‘A set of twelve coloured drawings on paper, mounted and bound in dark red morocco, gilt, dark red watered silk linings’. We know something of the provenance of the drawings from a note tucked into their album, which reads thus:
Second only in importance to what are called the Mandarin Series (which are larger designs), sets such as this are scarce on account of the subjects being Chinese national types; i.e., pictures of the common people as compared with celebrity mandarins. This set was captured at the Taku Forts in 1842, and their captor stated that they were at least twenty years old, and possibly much more, at that time.
The circumstances were these
Captain Henry Eden, R.N. was senior Lieutenant of the Dido during the closing operations of the Chinese War, 1841-1842. The day after the taking of Woosung, June 17, 1842, Lieutenant Eden landed in command of the boats’ crews belonging to the squadron, which included the marines of the Dido and destroyed the enemy’s forts, magazines, etc. In one of those forts this set of Chinese drawings was found by Lieutenant Eden and he carried them off as a prize, retaining them in his family until his death, when they came into the possession of his sons, from one of whom they were purchased in 1919.
Beautiful Things – text and photographs by Charles Harrowell.
We would love to hear from anyone who can add to our knowledge of these beautiful drawings.