Item No: #362550 Chinese Actor, S. F. [Stereoview]. Carleton Watkins.

Watkins Image of a Cantonese Opera Actor in San Francisco

Chinese Actor, S. F. [Stereoview]

Notes: A fine, dramatic portrait of a Cantonese opera actor standing in a Chinese restaurant in San Francisco. He is surrounded by ornate Chinese-style chairs. In the background, a Buddha shrine is visible, as are stringed instruments. Scrolls and paintings hang on the wall. The actor, clearly a leading man (xiaosheng) wears an elaborate, ornate costume and the winged cap of a loyal official, the flaps of which could typically be moved with hidden wires for comic or dramatic effect.

Carleton Watkins, a prolific and acclaimed 19th century photographer of California, made a number of views of San Francisco's Chinatown, which was located a couple of blocks from his studio-showroom at 427 Montgomery Street. Watkins is known to have employed a Chinese-American darkroom assistant, Ah Fue, who may have helped give him access to people and locations not normally visited by white photographers. Based on Peter Palmquist's checklist of Watkins' stereoviews, this image likely dates from the late 1870s.

According to the Sacramento Bee (7 March 1879), Long Yow was the leading male Chinese actor of the day in San Francisco, earning $6700 per year performing in Chinatown's two theaters. This image could be of him or of one of the half-dozen other leading players on the stage at the time.

Two other Watkins photographs taken in this room are known: one of two women seated in the same room with the sheet on the right side of the image, titled "Interior, Chinese Restaurant, S. F." (New Boudoir Series, B3764) and a group of four men having tea at a table in front of the musical instruments without the sheet, which reveals a wall of glass (New Boudoir Series B3762).

This stereoview was not (apparently) made with a stereoview camera. Instead, it is two prints made from the glass negative of boudoir card B3760. The two prints are from slightly different positions on the negative, mimicking the stereoview camera effect. They each measure 3-1/8 inches square. The mount bears the letterpress caption, "Chinese Actor. S. F. 3765."

Edition + Condition: Medium toned prints with good contrast. Both images have faint evidence that the negative was wiped. The mount has an orange-paper-covered front and pink paper on the verso (back). The promotional text for Watkins' photographs is on the left and "WATKINS'' NEW SERIES | Of Pacific Coast Views, 427 Montgomery Street S. F." is printed on the right (some examples have to text positions reversed). Minor wear to the corners of the card mount, but near fine and uncommon.

Publication: San Francisco: Watkins' New Series, (late 1870s, perhaps printed somewhat later?).

Item No: #362550

Price: $950