This view of the hongs, or “factories” – the offices and storage facilities of Western traders at Canton – records a brief period when seven different nations were all in residence at the only Chinese port where Western trade was permitted.
The French tricolour was raised on January 19th, 1803. The American flag was raised on the waterfront in 1799, although the United States had begun to trade at Canton immediately after the War of Independence (1775-1783).
The Swedish and Danish flags were about to disappear from views of the port, as those two nations ceased to trade with China shortly after this view was painted. The Spanish flag survived until the late 1820s, and the Dutch until the fire of December 1841.
Views of Canton were probably the most popular paintings to be acquired by captains and merchants, followed by ship portraits. Both documented important locations and moments in trade.
Photo: View of Canton (Guangzhou) c. 1804
Oil on canvas, 32" x 50"
Courtesy of Martyn Gregory Gallery, London