A Gift from an Empress: Painting Attributed to Empress Dowager Offered at Auction

Presented to Congressman and Mrs. Edwin H. Conger

A diplomatic gift to Congressman and Mrs. Edwin H. Conger, survivors of the Boxer Rebellion

04/08/2021     News and Film, Asian Arts

Update: Lot 84 sold for $56,700 in the April 8 auction, achieving double it's pre-sale auction estimate.



Freeman’s is pleased to present a hanging scroll attributed to the Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908) in our April 8 Asian Arts auction. Most works attributed to the Empress Dowager were painted by other court members; however, the present work may be from her hand. Browse the sale to view the lot and register to bid in the upcoming auction.


Lot 84 | Attributed to the Empress Dowager of China, Cixi (1835-1908), JIUTIAN CHUILU (GRAPES), ink on silk, mounted as a hanging scroll, $15,000-25,000, sold for $56,700 on April 8


The scroll was painted in early 1902, soon after the court’s return to Beijing after the Boxer Rebellion, and was gifted by the Empress Dowager to Congressman and Mrs. Edwin H. Conger.

Congressman Conger served as Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Imperial Court of China from 1898 to 1905. During this time, virulent and reactionary anti–western forces within China coalesced, culminating in the “Boxer Rebellion.” In June 1900, the International Legation Quarter in Beijing was besieged by the Boxers, and Conger, along with his family and other targets, endured daily military assault until the Eight Nation Alliance came to their aid during the Battle of Beijing.

These and subsequent events were recorded in a series of letters written and later published by Mrs. Edwin H. Conger. Letters from China also describe Conger’s growing friendship with the Empress Dowager, portraying her as one of the few westerners who recognized foreign fear and discrimination and made a conscious effort to get to know the Empress and other members of the Chinese court.

The title of this painting may be translated as Heavenly Dew or Dewdrops from the Highest Heaven. In Chinese culture, the “Ninth Heaven” has been variously conceived as either the apex of the heavens, akin to the western empyrean, or the breadth of the sky, comprising the center and all eight cardinal directions. Dew, meanwhile, was considered a rarefied and magical substance, reserved for divine beings. Since grapes are symbols of fertility and abundance, this gift from the Empress Dowager signifies prosperity and well–being, and would have been particularly meaningful considering the events that preceded its creation and Cixi’s efforts to build bridges with representatives of Western nations.


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