In 1842 the Qing dynasty comes out in ruins from the first opium war, including some subservience to the Western powers. The great rebellions begin in 1851. These civil wars are among the deadliest in history.
The lack of coordination between the Taiping and Nian rebellions is due to their very different origins. Taiping is mystically inspired. Nian is political, in response to the inability of the imperial government to prevent famine after the catastrophic flood of the Yellow River.
The immensity of the territory to be controlled is one of the causes of the very long durations of these rebellions, repressed respectively in 1864 and 1868. The two other major conflicts are Muslim rebellions, in other provinces, respectively terminated in 1873 and 1877.
At the imperial court, the dominant personality from 1861 to 1908 is Regent Cixi, with the title of Empress Dowager. The suppression of the four rebellions is a great achievement for her armies. In 1886 the father of the young Guangxu emperor orders the creation of silk paintings glorifying the imperial victories against Taiping and Nian. A little later a similar work is commissioned to commemorate the Muslim battles.
This set totaling 67 artworks is exhibited from 1890 to 1900 in a pavilion rebuilt in 1885 where Qianlong had used to celebrate his victories. The complete series of 12 paintings from one of the Muslim campaigns is kept at the Palace Museum in Beijing. The surviving pieces for the other three rebellions are rare.
The Nian series included 18 paintings. The battle scenes are remarkably detailed, with different faces and expressions for each character. Officers are identified by their name and it is considered that their faces are recognizable.
The clans are identified by their flags, five horizontal stripes for the imperials and monochrome in five variants for the rebels, and by the headdress, plait and hat for the imperial soldiers and an orange-red turban for the rebels. The armament, probably supplied to both parties by Western adventurers, is modern despite the preponderance of the cavalry.
A Nian painting 136 x 301 cm was sold for € 810K including premium by Tessier et Sarrou on June 26, 2017 despite some accidents and the absence of the inscription identifying the battle. On March 20 in New York, Sotheby's sells the Nian opus number 7, 137 x 310 cm, showing the siege of a walled city, lot 719 estimated $ 300K.
SOLD for $ 500K including premium