A Painting in Gouache and Ink on paper of a Noble Family Hunt

Late 18th or 19th century, cyclically dated by a seal in the lower left corner to the Guichou year, probably corresponding to 1853 but possibly 1793

23 inches x 61 inches, mounted on silk-lined paper


Depicting a winding procession of finely attired equestrian figures riding richly caparisoned horses in a misty autumn landscape with many tree species, some bare of leaves, the central figure on a white mount and dressed in a red hooded-robe, his undergarment now faded to the yellow under-paint with traces of a former blue pigment, interestingly, four other male riders have an identical treatment of their garments, and like the central figure appear to be portrait studies from life, perhaps suggesting their importance in the hierarchy too, trailing behind these in the procession are four elegantly clad female riders on similarly caparisoned steeds, with armed guards on horseback following them through a small gorge in the hilly terrain towards a variety of pine, fir and wutong trees and a winding stream which leads to the right foreground of the scene, within the landscape a variety of other auxiliary riders and walking attendants perform different tasks, some carrying slain game from the hunt, two figures support hooded falcons, another holds a small family dog, many of the figures wear fur-lined cold-weather garments of different materials including wool, deer-hide, and fur, some carry spears, others seem to have rifles, and a group of riders at the front of the entourage are archers, the top right corner bares a red ink four-character seal mark reading yun yi can tang (fleeting cloud cottage) and another larger in the bottom left of the painting reads sui zai gui chou (a cyclical date probably corresponding to 1853 but possibly 1793)                   


Sir Douglas Berry Copland (Ambassador to China 1946-48).


An 'Australian Embassy' note paper with printed coat-of-arms and motto is glued to the reverse of the lining, and typed with the words "To Professor and Mrs. Douglas Copland with kindest regards and best wishes for the future from the Staff of the Australian Embassy in Nanking." followed by nine sepia-ink signatures.


There is a long tradition of capturing noble and Imperial hunts in Chinese paintings from the famed 12th century Song Dynasty hand scroll of the 'Stag Hunt' attributed to Huang Zongdao, through the Imperial hunts of the Qing Dynasty, reaching its apex with the paintings by Giuseppe Castiglione, the Italian Jesuit who served as a court painter to Qianlong.   


The hunt became an annual rite of the emperors of China from the late 17th century onward. It was first organized in 1681 by the Kangxi Emperor at the imperial hunting grounds at Mulan, near what would become the summer residence of the Qing emperors at Chengde. It was a synthesis of earlier Chinese and Inner Asian hunting traditions, particularly those of the Manchus and Mongols. The emperor himself participated in the hunt, along with thousands of soldiers, imperial family members, and government officials.


The Manchu emperors of the Qing dynasty used the hunt as a military exercise to train their troops in the traditional martial skills of archery and horsemanship. The event provided an opportunity for Qing emperors to leave the confines of the Forbidden City in Beijing and return to the forests "north of the wall", closer to their ancestral homelands, where they could hunt and live as their ancestors did.


For an example of a festive hunt gathering  dating to the Ming dynasty in the Palace Collection, Beijing see, Yang Xin, ed., Gugong bowuyuan cang Ming Qing huihua (Ming and Qing paintings in the Palace Museum collection), Beijing, 1994, cat, no. 2