Fair highlight from Wattis Fine Art


Charles Wirgman. Hong Kong - View of Kowloon and Hong Kong Harbour from c.1857

Watercolour 22.3 x 56.5 cms.

[1832 - 1891] Charles Wirgman's rare watercolour study of Kowloon is an unusual topographical view showing only a few small villages on the Kowloon peninsula. Here Kowloon is seen extending like an elephant's trunk into the water, an area that would later become known as Tsim Sha Tsui. It was probably painted shortly after his arrival in Hong Kong. A similar figure to the one to the left of this drawing appeared in his sketch of Gilman's Bazaar, Hong Kong that was dated Nov. 3rd 1857 (Christie's Swire - Fine China Trade Paintings and Printed Material 1989 Lot no. 896). Few of Wirgman's paintings were purely topographical and so this is quite an unusual study in watercolour.

Charles Wirgman was an artist and correspondent who started working for the London magazine, The Illustrated London News in the middle of the nineteenth century. He arrived in Hong Kong in 1857 and started painting and writing stories, a number of which would be published over the next couple of years. Together with his friend the photographer Felice Beato he was accomadated by the military authorities with the British expeditionary force to the north of China in 1860. Beato arrived in Hong Kong in March 1860 and took various panoramic views which were among the earliest photographic panoramas of the city and Kowloon. Various military encampments appear in his pictures of Kowloon.

This painting by Wirgman would pre-date the photographs and was probably painted in 1857. There are just a few villages on the Kowloon Peninsula. In the early 1860s Wirgman moved to Yokohama.

In 1864 he formed a commercial partnership with Felice Beato, Beato and Wirgman, Artists and Photographers. This lasted until 1868. Along with being the correspondent for the ILN, Wirgman set up The Japanese Punch magazine. Wirgman is credited in Japan as being one of the founder's of 'Manga'. He also taught Japanese artists how to paint in oils. The Hong Kong Directory: With List of Foreign Residents in China 1859, lists, Wirgman, Charles. Artist. Living in Canton.

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