THERE IS A ROOM in Knole House (near Sevenoaks in Kent), which contains several portraits painted by Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792). One of them is a self-portrait. Near to this, there is a portrait of a man with a red cap, seated cross-legged. His youthful face has Chinese features. The sitter is Wang-y-tong (‘Huang Ya Dong’: born c 1753). Reynolds painted him in about 1776.
Wang was one of the earliest known Chinese people to have visited England. He came over following in the footsteps of an earlier Chinese visitor, the artist Tan-Che-Qua (c1728-1796), who arrived in London in 1769. Tan met King George III, and his work was shown at the Royal Academy in 1770. In about 1770, Wang was brought from Canton to England by John Bradby Blake (1745-1773), an employee of the East India Company. Blake was a naturalist and was interested in Wang’s knowledge of cultivating Chinese plants, and their uses. Wikipedia noted:
“Wang visited the Royal Society on 12 January 1775. In a letter of 1775, he is said to be about 22 years old. He was visited at Blake’s house, where he discussed the manufacture of Chinese ceramics with Josiah Wedgwood, and acupuncture with physician Andrew Duncan.”
It also describes how Wang became a page to Giovanna Bacelli (1753-1801), who was a mistress of John Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset, who owned Knole House. Wang lived at Knole, and was educated at the nearby Sevenoaks School. He returned to China by 1784, at which date he was working as a trader in Canton.
Wang’s portrait hangs amongst those of many famous men painted by Reynolds, including Samuel Johnson and David Garrick, as well as the 3rd Duke. The latter is said to have paid Joshua Reynolds 70 guineas (almost £76) to paint Wang’s excellent portrait. Wang was well-received in England. It would be interesting to learn what he thought about life as he found it at Knole and other places he visited in England.