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On my last day I happen into an art exhibition held in some corporate palace in Central. The custodians of the exhibition are straight from New Bond Street: a Fiona with an Alice band and a bright hard smile; a couple of Nigels with crinkly hair, waisted suits and big-boy shoes. And what was on the menu, that it should be so grand? Guercino silverpoints? Not quite. Clausen drawings? Not even. Rather a collection of landscapes of Hong Kong from the 1840s, mostly painted for the European tourist by Chinese artists, or in most cases daubers. Because these were, in fact, postcards, badly painted, mass-produced canvases. The level was Antiques Roadshow. So here was an irony, (yes another irony that could be worked into another Hong Kong article.) For here were the grandsons and granddaughters of Empire flogging back to the Chinese (and they would be a surefire investment) at risibly high prices, picture postcards of the actual territory they themselves were about to lose.

But my heart isn't in irony. Fin de siecle irony will very soon look embarrassingly old fashioned. In the new millennium we will find ourselves able to speak again (free of irony, at last, of air quotes) of Honour, Glory, Courage.

That is why I liked these little pictures. They made me think of these noble abstractions: the milky blue skies, the caramely clouds of the amateur landscape painter, the sunlight playing on the fresh stucco of the Governor's mansion, a bright Union flag fluttering prettily from a staff, the tiny cuneiform
brushstrokes indicating the tents of the new garrison, the Puginesque little church just completed. Since so many other are wringing their hands at the undoubted iniquity of the Opium Wars, etc. I will let myself at least, say that, on looking at these daubs I felt proud and moved by the audacity of Empire

   
 

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