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Katharine Carl

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Katharine Carl

Katharine Carl
Carl in Chinese costume
Born 1865
New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S
Died 1938 (aged 72–73)
New York City, U.S
Known for Painting portraits for Empress Dowager Cixi

Katharine Augusta Carl (1865–1938) (sometimes spelled Katherine Carl)[1] was an American painter and author who spent nine months in China in 1903 painting a portrait of the Empress Dowager Cixi for the St. Louis Exposition.

On her return to America, she published a book about her experience, titled With the Empress Dowager. She was born in 1865 in New Orleans, Louisiana and died in 1938 in New York City.

Journeys to China

Katharine Carl was commissioned in the summer of 1903 to paint a portrait of the Empress Dowager Cixi for the Chinese exhibit at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition. She spent a total of nine months in China and painted four portraits of the Empress Dowager, later recording her memories as the only foreigner to live within the precincts of the Chinese imperial court in its last days in a book that was published in 1906.

Carl was the sister of Francis A. Carl, who worked for Sir Robert Hart at the Imperial Chinese Maritime Customs Service. She apparently stayed at Hart's house at some point and was described by him as "very breezy - quite a tornado".[2] She later dedicated her book to Hart. While in Peking, Carl made friends with Sarah Pike Conger, the wife of American Ambassador Edwin H. Conger and great admirer of the Empress Dowager. Carl describes the attempts Mrs. Conger made to introduce western ways to the Empress Dowager whenever the opportunity provided itself.

While Katharine Carl was very impressed with the Empress Dowager, the feeling was mutual and the Empress Dowager honoured Carl with the order of Double Dragon, Third Division, and fifteen hundred guineas in recognition of her work.

With the Empress Dowager

Katharine Carl's writings of her time in China provide a unique and intimate assessment of the Empress Dowager Cixi. In the book's introduction, Katharine Carl says she wrote the book because "After I returned to America, I was constantly seeing in the newspapers (and hearing of) statements ascribed to me which I never made." These statements were usually at the expense of the Dowager's reputation, and Carl felt strongly enough about it to defend the Empress Dowager in writing and to try to dispel an incorrect image of Cixi that still lingers today.

In her book, Katharine Carl describes the Empress Dowager Cixi as a kind and considerate woman for her station. Dowager Cixi, though shrewd, had great presence, charm, and graceful movements resulting in "an unusually attractive personality." She loved dogs and had a kennel maintained by eunuchs at the Summer Palace where she had "some magnificent specimens of Pekingese pugs and of a sort of Skye terrier." She did not like cats and some of the eunuchs who had cats made sure to keep them "within rigid bounds, on no condition allowing them to come within Her Majesty's ken." Dowager Cixi enjoyed flowers and the staff of the Summer Palace ensured the rooms and courtyards were kept properly dressed with cut flowers.

Katharine Carl described Cixi as a very loyal person, saying of her retinue: "Among these is a Chinese woman who nursed Her Majesty through a long illness, about twenty-five years since, and saved her life by giving her mother's milk to drink. Her Majesty, who never forgets a favor, has always kept this woman in the Palace. Being a Chinese, she had bound feet. Her Majesty, who cannot bear to see them even, had her feet unbound and carefully treated, until now she can walk comfortably. Her Majesty has educated the son, who was an infant at the time of her illness, and whose natural nourishment she partook of. This young man is already a Secretary in a good yamen (government office)."

Carl described Cixi as enjoying boating on the lake at the Summer Palace, walks through the gardens and grounds of the Palace (actually the Imperial family rode in sedan chairs so the eunuchs did the majority of the walking), and presentations of Chinese opera in the Summer Palace Opera house. Dowager Cixi smoked Chinese water pipes as well as European cigarettes through a cigarette holder. At an age of 69, Dowager Cixi was in sufficiently good physical shape that when providing a tour of the Summer Palace Opera House to Katharine Carl, Dowager Cixi "mounted the steep and difficult steps with as much ease and lightness as I did, and I had on comfortable European shoes, while she wears the six-inch-high Manchu sole in the middle of her foot, and must really walk as if on stilts."

Carl's experiences with the Dowager Empress are further detailed by Muriel Jernigan in Forbidden City. Jernigan lived in Peking until the 1912 revolution.

Works

  • With the Empress dowager (1905)

Notes

This book at Library of Congress (Full version, publicly available PDF) http://ia600605.us.archive.org/14/items/withempressdowag00carl/withempressdowag00carl.pdf

References

  • With the Empress Dowager of China by Katharine Augusta Carl, Kessinger Publishing, ISBN 1-4179-1701-6.
  • Forbidden City by Muriel Molland Jernigan, New York, Crown Publishers [1954]
  • Book Review of With the Empress Dowager Of China by Katharine Augusta Carl, by Lolan Wang Grady, Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, Ottawa.

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