Friday, November 1, 2013

Painting of the Day: A Chinese Puppet Show, c. 1790

Click on image to stand on a coffee table.
Souvenir Watercolor Painting
Guangzhou, China, c. 1790
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Painted in Guangzhou, China, around 1790, this painting is just one of a set of 100 which show various tradesmen from Canton engaged in their work. The set was made for export to the U.K. where, at the time, a growing interest in Asian culture was becoming prevalent.

This particular scene depicts a traveling puppeteer at work. Unlike the fit-ups to which we’re accustomed, here, the puppeteer himself becomes the fit-up. Look closely. You can see that the puppet theatre sits on the performer’s shoulders. He raises his arms above his head to work the puppets and a colorful cloth conceals his body—tied at the ankles.

Being no stranger to the mechanics of puppeteering, I confess that I don’t think I’d like to work this way. First of all, it’d be rather a bitch to get yourself set-up for a show, but, worse still, is how to get out of it afterwards. Furthermore, it doesn’t seem to be worth the effort. The only people in attendance are an old man and a child contortionist. And, who carries the coffee table?

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