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Chinatown

John Bellany1987

London Transport Museum

London Transport Museum
United Kingdom

This vast oil painting is by the leading Royal Academician John Bellany. It was commissioned by London Underground in 1987 as part of the 'Art on the Underground' series. Bellany approached the subject of Chinatown by addressing highly complex issues. His allusion to a power struggle between the East and West could be interpreted as the Chinese gaining ascendancy over Britain. The woman in the foreground is clearly Western and her opera glasses establish her as from the past when the West dominated China. Here, in Chinatown, the tables have turned. She is virtually naked, stripped of her authority and power. She literally and metaphorically pales in comparison to the strong, competent Chinese characters. On a Chinese table, the head of the fish traditionally points to the most important person. On this Chinese table, in the centre of London, guests prepare to eat lobster. The lobster is a Western delicacy and represents the epitome of sophisticated dining. Is this a fusion of cultural tradition, or a collision? The lobster points to the fortune-teller. As in the card scene in Georges Bizet's opera Carmen, a diamond and a spade foretell death for both sides.

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  • Title: Chinatown
  • Creator: John Bellany
  • Date Created: 1987
  • Physical Dimensions: 1515mm, 1213mm
  • Subject Keywords: Attractions
  • Type: Poster artwork
  • External Link: Record in London Transport Museum Collections Online
  • Reference number: 1987/214
  • Physical Description: A painting of a family at a restaurant, a waiter behind them and a fortune-teller sat with them there is a lobster on the table, served for dinner. Chinese characters in the background denote a restaurant, and an inset image in the left hand corner shows a rooftop and flowers
  • Item location: Acton Depot

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