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silla was born out of a passion for beautiful objects: special pieces with aesthetic and historical significance. In 2009, after years of collecting, Andrew Silla and his wife Grace began to work privately with clients from their residence in Southern Maryland. Quickly outgrowing the space, the business was moved from Maryland to Pennsylvania in 2012 and after several warehouse location changes it was firmly settled in the present brick-and-mortar location in downtown Shippensburg.

The 9000 square foot brick-and-mortar gallery is home to a large collection of works of art and estate jewelry. We specialize in sculpture circa 1860 through 1930 with a particular emphasis on the Animaliers and as such the gallery always has a very large collection of exceptional European and American sculpture available on display.

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"The County of Caithness" (1897) | Lai Fong

Fong of Calcutta, Lai

Regular Price: $13,700.00
Gallery Price: $12,000.00
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Hong Kong/India, active 1875-1910

"County of Caithness" (1897)

Oil on canvas | signed lower right "Lai Fong / Calcutta / 1897"

Item # 403ZMN11W 

A very fine oil on canvas by the China Trade painter Lai Fong, executed in the year 1897, this maritime composition features the four-masted English Navy vessel "The County of Caithness." The painting projects a certain grandeur and deep respect for the naval architecture of the late 19th century with remarkable care shown in documenting the details of the ship and portraying her in a brilliant setting.

The vessel is depicted under full sail, cutting through the waves with a sense of purpose and strength. Fong's meticulous rigging details and the tangible texture of the sails against the robust framework of the ship portray the vessel with an uncommon exactness. Incredibly subtle brushwork with infintesimal dashes, strokes and dots bring to life even the smallest elements of the ship. The color palette is carefully chosen to reflect the power and complexity of the sea, the waters rendered in tones of deep green to suggest the profound depths beneath the ship's passage.

A serene and optimistic work, Fong's ability to use light and shadow are brilliantly showcased in this example. Darkness dances across the waves in the foreground as the overhead clouds are actively felt moving their way across the gentle waters, clouds that must be relatively near to the water as the sky is bright and clear with only gentle cloud cover in the distance.

This piece represents not only a significant historical period in naval history but also the intersection of Eastern and Western artistic traditions at the turn of the century. This painting is a remarkable acquisition for collectors with an appreciation for maritime art, historical vessels, and the work of Lai Fong.

The County of Caithness was a remarkable four-masted iron ship, built in 1876 by Barclay, Curle & Co., Glasgow for R. & J. Craig of Glasgow. With dimensions of 266.4 feet in length, 38.8 feet in breadth, and 23.6 feet in depth, the vessel was a significant presence on the sea, boasting a gross tonnage of 1715 and a net tonnage of 1636.

Originally a ship, it was later modified to a barque. It served faithfully until 1901 when it was dismasted, leading to its sale in 1902 to A/S Sofie of Norway and a renaming to "Sofie". The vessel's final days saw it transformed into a coal hulk in 1914 at Fremantle, Australia, until it was scuttled at the Rottnest graveyard in 1931.

Lai Fong was a distinguished Chinese artist who specialized in marine paintings, primarily ship portraits, and was active predominantly in the last quarter of the 19th century. Born in Hong Kong, he later migrated to Calcutta, India, where he established himself as a leading pier head painter. This relocation marked a significant deviation from the norm, as most of his contemporaries in the China Trade school of painting were based in locations such as Canton, Whampoa, Hong Kong, or Shanghai.

Fong's career spanned from approximately the mid-1870s to around 1905, a period during which he painted vessels from various parts of the world. His works are characterized by a unique blend of the European and American conventions of ship portrait painting with the China Trade oil painting style that developed post-1800. He was particularly adept at capturing the essence of four-masted barques, which were commonly featured in his paintings. Unlike many China Trade painters who often left their works unsigned or undated, Lai Fong regularly dated his canvases, providing a clearer timeline of his active years as an artist.

His meticulous attention to detail and scrupulously accurate depictions of ships gained him considerable renown. Interestingly, Lai Fong's artistic choices often led him to forgo featuring coastal landscapes in his work, preferring instead to focus on portraying ships on their ocean-bound journeys.

Throughout his career, Lai Fong's contributions were significant in bridging cultural and artistic traditions, while his specialization in ship portraits marked him as a notable figure within the marine art scene of the late 19th century. His work not only reflects the rich maritime history of the time but also showcases a unique fusion of artistic styles from different parts of the world.

Measurements: 17 3/4" H x 23 3/8" W [canvas]; 23 1/2" H x 2" D x 29 1/2" W [frame]

Condition Report:
Wax re-lined. Surface cleaned in the last decade or so - we have opted not to clean the surface again, as it presents brilliantly with only minute trace grime; we can certainly have the painting sent out to be cleaned upon request, but at this time we do not recommend it; contemporary frame with minor wear. A very fine presentation, ready to place.