From the British Museum: “A Chinese Lady” 18th century print

I was perusing the excellent online catalog at the British Museum (nice online image distribution system for educational use, by the way). I found this intriguing image of “A Chinese Lady,” printed after a painting by Allan Ramsey. I am not versed at all in the fashions of various Chinese cultural groups from the mid-18th century; however, she does not have the trappings of a Han woman. She wears no ao and skirt, or pao, the garments I identify with Chinese women’s traditional dress. Whatever circumstance brought this woman to be painted and then produced into print, I love the amalgamation of various European components in her dress. She appears to wear a man’s shirt, over which a handkerchief is draped, with a pearl necklace at the throat. Attached over the front is a Western stomacher (perhaps it’s a bodice of some sort, as lines over the shoulder insinuate thin straps), rich with ribbon detail and bows attached at the corners. Another handkerchief, this one with a pattern, envelopes her hair. A brief search online did not reveal the original painting by Ramsay – perhaps it no longer exists, or resides in a private collection.

The Chinese Lady. 2010,7081.1687. The British Museum.

About Becky Fifield

Becky Fifield is a cultural heritage professional with 25 years experience in institutions large and small. She is currently Head of Collection Management for the Special Collections of the New York Public Library. An advocate for preventive conservation, Ms. Fifield is a Professional Associate of the American Institute for Conservation, Chair of the AIC Collection Care Network, and former Chair of Alliance for Response NYC. She is also a scholar of 18th century female unfree labor and dress. There's a bit of pun in the title The Still Room, delineating a quiet space brimming with the ingredients of memory, where consideration, analysis, and wordcraft can take place. Ms. Fifield’s interests include museum practice, dress history, historic preservation, transit, social and women’s history, food, current events, geneaology, roadtrips, and considerations on general sense of place. Becky and her husband, Dr. V, live in the Hudson Valley.