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Almost immediately Chinese artists began to record the arrival of the Western ships and a pair of such pictures was offered on May 24 at the Edinburgh rooms of Lyon & Turnbull (15% buyer’s premium).

Attributed to Hing Qua, the 211/4in by 3ft 1/2in (54 x 93cm) pictures, showing The Hongs, Canton, right, and its companion The Bund, Shanghai, had been in Scotland from a family with connections to a Hong Kong shipping line.

Much of Canton including the factories, or ‘Hongs’, was destroyed by fire in 1842. The Protestant church, visible to the right of the Canton view, was rebuilt, financed by public subscription, in 1849, but was burnt down again in 1856. These topographical features dated the pictures to c.1850. In order to capitalise on the global interest in China trade pictures, the auctioneers chose to put the pair on view at the China Club in Hong Kong as well as on the Internet and in their Edinburgh rooms. “Even though we knew how popular China trade pictures are we were still amazed at the range of interest in this pair,” said specialist-in-charge Nick Curnow.

The condition of China trade pictures is often suspect due to the cheap materials used by the local artists, but Mr Curnow felt this pair was surprisingly good and estimated at £25,000-35,000. One leading London specialist disagreed, citing the paintings as “quite run of the mill” and “not the greatest quality”. Nevertheless the London trade had to fight off private buyers from Paris, Hong Kong and Boston – the latter possibly attracted by the three ships with American flags in the Shanghai picture – before securing the pair at £75,000.