Sunday 27 September 2020

panda diplomacy

Via Nag on the Nag’s expertly curated Sunday Links (always a lot to explore here), we are introduced to the latest obsession, research rabbit hole from the contributors of Artsy magazine in this 1861 portrait of a pedigree Pekingese by German transplant painter Friedrich Wilhelm Keyl, who specialised in the subject and received many commissions from the court of Victoria and Albert. Though living a contented to all appearances and happy eleven more years in the lap of luxury, there’s a dark side to little Looty and her role as a political prop—sort of like Nixon’s Checkers speech.

Charmingly called after the diminutive for the spoils of war by the queen, this example of the exclusive companion breed reserved for the Imperial family of China was one of five Pekingese dogs found guarding the corpse of a lady who took her own life in 1860 as an Anglo-French exhibition force advanced on the Old Summer Palace (The Garden of Perfect Brightness and royal residence) and under the orders of Lord Elgin in retribution for an earlier failed peace treaty began to ransack the place at the height of the Second Opium War. The plunder and destruction took a force of four thousand men three days to carry out, owing to the palace’s monumental size. The sentimental portrait takes on new meaning when looking at it through the fraught historical context of colonialism and is still a matter that the European powers are coming to terms with. Not to be outdone by his father that stole the Marbles, Elgin’s (who also served as governors of Jamaica, Canada and India) wanton act forced the capitulation of the Qing Emperor and ceded the rest of the Kowloon Peninsula to the crown colony of Hong Kong. Posing before a Ming vase that was surely also part of the pilfered treasure, you can detect a hint of saudade and longing her eyes. We’d like to give back Looty her old name as well.