Kan Gao, Cayenne Chinese

Kan Gao, Cayenne Chinese

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Kan Gao, Cayenne Chinese.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Publication date: March 2016

Historical context

In the 18th century, Guyana occupied a strategic position as a mooring base for privateer vessels. Chinese were then introduced to create new plantations.

Image Analysis

In the Explanations of the line engravings of some paintings by P.-L. De Laval, painter of history by that. de Laval, Paris, 1858, we can read: “Kan-Gao was the leader of the sixty Chinese brought to Paris in 1821 by Captain Philibert, and who were transported to Cayenne to cultivate tea there. / Everything in this painting is Chinese; the figure, clothing and all accessories are made from life, and the view of the coastline in the distance is consistent with the drawings made at the scene by one of the officers of the expedition. / Kan-Gao is pictured on a terrace. He is dressed in a sort of pink crepe de chine blouse, a white silk petticoat adorned with drawings of various colors painted by hand; his pants and stockings are of white cotton, and his shoes are a fabric of straw and cloth; her cap is of ornate black silk of the same color; her parasol is made of wallpaper, interspersed with silks of various colors. "


A pupil of Forestier and Girodet, painter of great religious and secular decorations (the Château de Compiègne, Saint-Louis churches in Versailles, Saint-Leu-Saint-Gilles in Paris, etc.), Delaval was also a recognized portrait painter. An indication of a new interest in exoticism which had already flourished in the 18th century, this portrait, painted during a stay by Kan-Gao in Paris to be educated there, was unanimously celebrated by critics as remarkable, so much both in terms of color and of accuracy of costume and accessories. Because, in addition to the exoticism of the representation, Delaval here used what one might call a technical exoticism: the portrait of the "Cayenne Chinese" is in fact entirely executed with pigments from China. Today, this work can be seen as a first testimony to the emergence, in Restoration France, of an art of colonial inspiration.

  • colonial history
  • exoticism
  • portrait


Densie BOUCHE and Pierre PLUCHO History of French colonization Paris, Fayard, 1991.Annie REY-GOLDZEIGUER, Jean MEYER History of colonial France T.1: The conquest Paris, A. Colin col. Agora, 1996 Serge MAM-LAM-FOUCK French Guiana at the time of slavery, gold and francization (1802-1946) Petit-Bourg (Guadeloupe), Ibis rouge, 1999.Serge MAM-LAM-FOUCK General history of French Guyana from the beginnings of colonization to the dawn of the year 2000: the major Guyanese problems, permanence and evolution Kourou, Ibis-Rouge, 1996.

To cite this article

Robert FOHR, "Kan Gao, Cayenne Chinese"

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