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A PERSONAL ESTIMATE OF THE CHARACTER OF THE LATE EMPRESS DOWAGER, TZE-HSI

By Katharine A. Carl, Painter of the Portrait of the Late Empress Dowager

I must first apologize for giving you but a gossipy talk, reminiscent of the dynasty that has passed and not touching upon things of import to China of today. Though the object of this conference, to which Clarke University has convened us, is to bring us to a better knowledge and appreciation of the Chinese, while we thrill at the recital of the struggles of the young republic to make itself worthy, I think all who are interested in China of today, even the ardent young republicans themselves, cannot fail to find some interest, to feel some pride in the great Empress Tze-Hsi who so long presided over the destinies of China, who, Manchu as she was, loving her own and full of the prejudices of her race. I found a patriotic Chinese, really loving and fully conscious of her great responsibilities toward China, deeply inbued with the idea of China's integrity, her right to retain her national entity at all costs and her power to work out her own salvation.

I had the honor of painting her majesty's portraits and of living with her during the eleven months necessary for the work. I was, during this time, brought into the close and quasi-intimate association that generally exists between the painter and his sitter, however august, and I learned to admire the Empress Dowager sincerely. I found her a charming woman ever fascinating and elusive, a perfect hostess, always thoughtful and considerate, a witty conversationalist, a clever painter, a womanly woman full of intelligence and charm; besides admiring in her those qualities of statesmanship, that executive power which the world at large has acknowledged.

Interesting as she was from the artist's standpoint, with her well poised head, her flashing eye, her noble nose, her regal bearing enhanced by imperial vestments and splendid jewels: her character, her vivid personality soon charmed me more than her exterior, and psychologically she was as interesting a study as she was artistically.

As the first question I am invariably asked about my experience is China is "How did you come to paint the Empress Dowager's portrait?" I will leave the interesting personality of my august sitter for the moment, and begin by telling you all I know about this. I visited Peking a few days after my arrival in China and at a dinner my first evening there, a secretary of the French legation in Peking (whom I had known in Paris) from his place at table, some distance from mine, asked me if I was not going "to paint the portrait of the Empress Dowager while I was in Peking." I laughlingly replied I was was perfectly willing to do so, but feared "willingness" would not carry me far towards its accomplishment, that my ambition at that time had not soared higher than hoping to have the opportunity of seeing the great woman! He insisted that being a woman and a painter of some little reputation were "qualifications" and that it was not so improbable. He then appealed to Sir Robert Hart asking him if it were not "probable." Sir Robert seemed more annoyed than interested and put a stop to the conversation by saying, "Miss Carl has not come to China to paint anyone's portrait." Later in the evening when I was alone with him, Sir Robert referred to the conversation by saying. "It seems strange Monsieur who has been in China ten years doesn't know Chinese emperors and empresses are never painted from life. After their deaths a more or less imaginary likeness from memory is made of them, but should the Empress Dowager set aside all traditions, as she is capable of doing, it would never be in favor of a foreigner." As he was so earnest about it I laughingly assured him I had no intention of taking Monsieur au serieux, that I should not pursue the Empress Dowager into the mysterious fastnesses of the forbidden city and demand to paint her portrait, nor should I even

attack the Foreign Office, backed by my government, and insist on painting her majesty or having an indemnity.

Four months later I was in Chefoo. There I received a letter from Mrs. Conger wife of our then minister to China. She wrote, "There is a question of the Empress Dowager having her portrait painted. Mr. Conger and I are very anxious to have it sent to the St. Louis Exposition. We should like to know, if it should be brought about, if you would be willing to come to Peking and undertake it." I hastened to assure Mrs. Conger not only of my "willingness" but of my great desire to do it. And immediately the memory of my first night in Peking and the dinner conversation recurred to me and I realized, from what Sir Robert had told me, how improbable such a thing was. While feeling duly grateful to Mr. and Mrs. Conger for their interest, I spoke of the letter to no one but my brother and soon put it out of my mind.

Five months later I was in Shanghai when I received a second letter from Mrs. Conger saying she thought the portrait was "imminent," that they expected word from the palace any day as to when it was to be begun. Needless to say I was amazed and overjoyed at the thought of the "impossible" becoming the probable, and in a few days I had the third letter from Mrs. Conger containing a copy of the official message her majesty had sent through the Wai-WuPu to the American legation thus worded, "H. I. M. The Empress Dowager of Great China requests her Excellency Mrs. Conger to present the American artist at the palace on Friday August 5, for the purpose of painting her majesty's portrait."

On arrival in Peking I went to the American legation as guest of our Minister and Mrs. Conger. Soon after my arrival there the Empress Dowager's interpreters came to inquire on the part of her majesty if I had made a comfortable voyage and to hope that I was not too fatigued thereby to begin her majesty's portrait on the day I was to be presented. "The augurs and astrologers had naturally been consulted on so momentous an event as the painting of her majesty's first portrait and had found that the day on which

I was to be presented was a most auspicious day for beginning." I immediately agreed to begin on the "auspicious day," saying I would make a small sketch on that day. I was told her majesty did not wish a "small sketch" but "a very large portrait." I assured them that the small sketch would serve as a basis for as large a portrait as her majesty desired, but I found this could not be done; as, to carry out the instructions of the augurs and astrologers, the final large picture must be begun, if only by a line, on the day chosen! Thus not knowing anything of her majesty, whether she would require a wide or narrow canvas, I stretched one, three by six feet, and on the appointed day Mrs. Conger, her interpreter and myself, with all my paraphernalia, canvas, easel, charcoal and paints set out for the summer palace, sixteenmiles from Peking.

On arrival at the gates a young official from the WaiWu-Pu (foreign office) came out to receive us. The foreign office has its own building at the gates of the summer palace as at the winter palace in Peking, for the Empress Dowager unlike European potentates, transacted business of state even when she was in villegiature. This young official, while assisting us to alight, told us her majesty was in a most gracious mood and had decided to give me "two sittings for the portrait" that I was to remain in the summer palace for the night and have a sitting the next day! Had I been able to begin by a preparatory small canvas, these two sittings would have delighted me, but two sittings for a canvas three feet by six was not encouraging! However, though I knew two sittings would be almost useless on such a canvas, I enjoyed the thought of being able to see the Great Empress and study her two days in succession.

The palace eunuchs awaited us in the court of the foreign office with the red palace chairs. We were soon seated in them and lifted from the ground and borne swiftly by the eunuch bearers through the outer gates of the palace, past beautiful yellow roofed buildings through wonderful flowerfilled courts until we finally reached the largest of these last on the banks of the lake. Tall flag staffs painted in blue and white with the imperial pennants waving in the breeze, flanked

a white marble-stepped landing place. Growing shrubs and fragrant flowers filled this court, over which was stretched a silken awning. On the side opposite the lake, in front of a great yellow-tiled building with its roof's upturned corners supported by vermilion columns, our chairs were set downthe great plate glass doors, emblazoned with her majesty's favorite character in vermilion and gold, were thrown open and we entered the throne room.

A group of ladies stood waiting to receive us. The young Empress (wife of the Emperor) surrounded by the princesses of the blood and her majesty's interpreters (one German and three English and French). Neither the Empress Dowager nor the Emperor were present. The English and French interpreters were the Lady Yu Keng and her daughters; Yu Keng, a Manchu had been minister to France and there the daughters had learned French. While Lady Yu Keng spoke English. I was talking with them when I noticed a lull, and on looking around saw a young and charming looking person, who was so different from my preconceived idea of the Empress Dowager that I asked who it was. "Her majesty." She entered, followed by the Emperor, who looked young and shy. Mrs. Conger first paid her respects and immediately the Empress Dowager asked "Where is the artist,” and I was brought up and began to make a reverence which she stopped by holding out her hands and saying "Ceremony is waived between artists," referring to herself as an artist which she was. After enquiring if I did not feel too tired to begin at the appointed time she withdrew to prepare herself for the sitting as she had received us in quite simple dress. She soon returned clothed in all the splendour of her imperial attire, her hair dressed in Manchu fashion and bedecked with brilliant flowers and curious jewels, her face bright and animated, she was truly an interesting subject for an artist. She asked if there was any change I should like made in the disposition of the furniture and when I suggested that the Dragon Throne be moved nearer the great plate-glass doors (the only place where the light was good enough to work) the princesses and eunuchs looked as if the ceiling should fall upon my unworthy

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