(5 January 1774 - 30 May 1852)
Chinnery was born in London, where he studied at the Royal Academy Schools. His father was an exponent of the Gurney system of shorthand; his elder brother William Chinnery owned what is now Gilwell Park in Essex, before he was discovered to have committed large-scale fraud, and fled to Sweden. George Chinnery moved in 1796, to Ireland, where he enjoyed some success as an artist, and married Marianne (née Vigne) on 19 April 1799, in Dublin
Chinnery returned to London in 1801, without his wife and two infant children. In 1802, he sailed to Madras (Chennai) on the ship Gilwell. He established himself as a painter there and then in Calcutta (Kolkata), where he became the leading artist of the British community in India.
By 1813, Chinnery was a freemason, listed as a member of Calcutta's well-to-do masonic lodge Star in the East. This was one of three masonic lodges in that city which took part in the official welcome for Lord Moira (1754-1826), also a freemason, on his arrival there (1813) as the new Governor-General of India. Chinnery's masonic career is otherwise little documented, and its connection with his artistic output unexplored.
Some of his most famous paintings are of the Indian family of Colonel James Achilles Kirkpatrick, British Resident to the Nizam of Hyderabad, who had set up home, to some scandal among his fellow Europeans, with the Indo-Iranian great niece of the Nizam of Hyderabad's chief minister. He painted 'The Kirkpatrick Children' presenting them "[with a] sympathy that is rare in portraiture of the period; the boy looking straight at the viewer with a self-conscious stance, hand on hip, while the girl looks uncomfortably at the floor." Mounting debt prompted a move in 1825, to southern China.
From 1825, until his death in 1852, Chinnery based himself in Macau, but until 1832, he made regular visits to Canton (now Guangzhou). He painted portraits of Chinese and Western merchants, visiting sea-captains, and their families resident in Macau. His work in oil paint was closely imitated by the Cantonese artist Lam Qua, who himself became a renowned portrait painter. Chinnery also painted landscapes (both in oils and in watercolours), and made numerous drawings of the people of Macau engaged in their daily activities.
At the time, westerners were restricted in their access to China, trading out of settlements in Macau and later Hong Kong, where Chinnery also went. His interest in the local scene does indeed set him apart from most western artists of the time. In 1846. he made a six-month visit to Hong Kong, where he suffered from ill health but made detailed studies of the newly founded colony. He died in Macau on May 30 1852, and is buried in the Old Protestant Cemetery there.
Other than artistic value, his paintings are historically valuable as he was the only western painter resident in South China between the early and mid 19th century. He vividly depicted the life of ordinary people and the landscape of the Pearl River Delta at that period. Among the subjects of his portraits are the Scottish opium traders William Jardine and James Matheson, as well as the diarist Harriet Low.
George Chinnery learned the Gurney system shorthand from his father and grandfather (both writing-masters), and he used his own modified version of this shorthand for jotting quick notes on his pencil sketches.
Substantial collections of Chinnery's drawings are to be found in London in the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum; and in Salem, Mass., at the Peabody Essex Museum. Other notable groups are held in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, UK; the Hong Kong Museum of Art; the Macau Museum; and the Macau Museum of Art. The Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation can claim to have the outstanding corporate collection of Chinnery's works.
Walter K. Firminger (1906), The Early History of Freemasonry in Bengal and the Punjab: with which is incorporated “The early history of Freemasonry in Bengal” by Andrew D’Cruz; Fagan, Louis Alexander (1887), "Chinnery, George". In Stephen, Leslie. Dictionary of National Biography, Vol 10, Impressions of the East - The Art of George Chinnery.
GEORGE CHINNERY (fl. 1766–1846)
Portrait and landscape painter, first exhibited some crayon portraits at the Free Society in 1766, and some miniature portraits at the Royal Academy in 1791. At this period he resided at No. 4 Gough Square, Fleet Street. In 1798, he was in College Green, Dublin, and was much patronised oy the Lansdowne family. He became a member of the Royal Hibernian Academy. In 1801, at an exhibition held in the Parliament Houae, Dublin, he had eleven pictures -- six portraits and five landscapes. In the following years we find him in London, and nothing is known of him until 1830, in which year he sent from Canton to the Royal Academy two portraits, vis. 'Dr. Morrison engaged in translating the Bible into the Chinese language,' and 'The Portrait of a Hong Merchant.' In 1846, his own portrait was in the Royal Academy. It is supposed that Chinnery accompanied Lord Macartney to China; however, he lived in that country for many years, visiting India, and died at Macao about 1800. In the hall of the Royal Dublin Society there is an oil-painting of a lady, seated, considered to represent Maria, marchioness of Lansdowne. There are in the print room of the British Museum a few slight sketches of Indian figures, and also a small quarto volume of etchiings by Chinnery entitled 'A Series of Miscellaneous rough Sketches of Oriental Heads', Published by W. Thacker & Co., Calcutta. These etchings bear the dates of 1839 and 1840. At Knowsley Hall there are two oil-paintings, 'A Chinese Landscape, the English Factory and the Town and Bay of Macao,' and 'View of Macao.' At the South Kensington Museum in 1867, was exhibited the portrait of Hugh Hamilton.
[Redgrave's Dictionary of Artists, 1878; Royal Academy Catalogues; manuscript notes in the British Museum; Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 10, Chinnery, George, by Louis Alexander Fagan
Birth: Jan. 5, 1774, Greater London, England.
Burial: Old Protestant Cemetery, Macau, Concelho de Macau, Macau
View artist's work: George Chinnery (1774-1852)