Friday, November 12, 2021

Lai Yong, Portrait Painter and Photographer

Lai Yong was a portrait painter and photographer who was born in China in 1840. The 1870 U.S. Federal Census said he was 30 years old. Lai Yong arrived in San Francisco, California in late summer 1866. The Daily Alta California, September 24, 1866, printed an advertisement announcing Lai Yong’s portrait painting studio at the Stevenson House (also known as the Stevenson’s Building in the 1862 San Francisco city directory).

The advertisement was also published on September 25November 19, and December 13, 1866.

The Napa County Reporter (Napa City, California), October 27, 1866, noted Lai Yong’s arrival. 
Art.—San Francisco is a progresive [sic] city. Chinese doctors have long been an established and preferred class, a newspaper printed in the Chinese language is announced, and we see by a city cotemporary [sic] that “Lai Yong,” certainly not an Italian or French name, has opened a studio, for the purpose of practicing his profession as a portrait painter. “Lai Yong” may not be much of an artist, but he will certainly draw well in a city which rejoices in sensations and Celestials.
The 1867 (below), 1868 and 1869 San Francisco city directories listed portrait painter Lai Yong at 659 Clay Street. 

Two of Lai Yong’s portraits were included in the Mechanics’ Institute’s 1869 exhibition. The Report of the Seventh Industrial Exhibition (below) misspelled his name “Lai Yung”. The San Francisco Chronicle, September 24, 1869, said “Lai Yong exhibits two portraits—tolerably good, but rather Chinese in style.” 

Around 1870, Lai Yong moved a block north to Washington Street. The 1870 San Francisco city directory is not available. The San Francisco Chronicle published several classified advertisements, from January 5 to February 4, 1870, for Dr. Jay Hon Chung. Below is the January 25 advertisement which included his address, 743 Washington Street. The doctor was part of Lai Yong’s household. 

The 1870 census, enumerated in June, did not include, in most cases, street names and building numbers. At 743 Washington Street was Lai Yong (head of the household), Lai Chong (probably Lai Yong’s brother who was a portrait painter), Jay Hong [sic] Chung (the doctor who advertised in the Chronicle), Ah Hing (photographer) and Jay Hoon (cook). They resided in Ward Six which was “bounded by Kearny Street on the east, Pine Street on the south, Larkin Street on the west, and Washington Street on the north.” Lai Yong’s name appeared on page two (below) of the census for Ward Six. On the first line of page three the enumerator wrote “Brenham Place” which connected Washington and Clay Streets and was the west boundary of Portsmouth Square. In 1985 Brenham Place was renamed Walter U. Lum Place.

Langley and Bishop city directories, from 1871 to 1879, listed Lai Yong as a portrait painter or photographer or both at 743 Washington Street. Here are the links:

1871, pages 386 and 772
1872, pages 384 and 777
1873, pages 362 and 744
1874, pages 388 and 811
1875, page 1224
1876, pages 479 and 946
1877, page 1419
1878, page 1076
1879, page 933

The San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin mentioned someone named Lai Yong who spoke at the Chinese Mission School. The December 22, 1871 edition reported the “First Annual Examination of the Chinese Mission School” and said “‘Heaven’ (dialogue), Lai Yong and Wong Tim.” The January 24, 1873 paper covered the second anniversary of the Chinese Mission School and said “Next was a very fair declamation, ‘Nature Confessing God,’ by Lai Yong”. 

The San Francisco Chronicle, February 4, 1877, said

Lai Yung [sic], our only Mongolian artist, is painting “heep plictures Melican man,” and charging “Melican man’s” price for the same. His principle success is in portraits.

Lai Yong was one of five Chinese men who wrote a petition that was translated and read by Reverend Otis Gibson at the San Francisco Board of Supervisors meeting on June 2, 1873. The text of the petition was printed the following day in the San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin and, on June 7, in the Sacramento Daily Union. In both papers, Lai Yong’s name was misspelled “Lai Tong”. Excerpts of the petition were published in The New York Times, June 17, 1873. Reverend Gibson included a revised version of the petition in his 1877 book, The Chinese in AmericaOne of the signatories of the petition was Lai Foon who may have been related to Lai Yong. 

The 1876 and 1880 (below) San Francisco city directories said “Lai Yong & Brother.” It’s not known how Lai Yong’s brother assisted him at the studio. 

Lai Yong has not been found in the 1880 census which listed 23 Chinese people at 743 Washington Street. Coincidentally, the first household, of five people, had somewhat similar occupations as Lai Yong’s 1870 household. There were two photographers, Chin Ming Hin and Chung Sim; a physician, Do Hong Ning; and two cooks, Leung Wan and Pan King. Lai Yong’s 1870 household had two portrait painters (who later became photographers), a physician, a photographer and a cook. However, adding ten years to the ages of the 1870 household members did not align with the ages in 1880.

The listing in the 1881 directory said “Lai Yong, photograph Gallery, 743 Washington”. After 1881 Lai Yong did not appear in city directories and apparently returned to China.

Further Reading and Viewing
The front and back of one of Lai Yong’s photographs can be viewed here

Asian American Art, A History 1850–1970
Gordon H. Chang, Mark Dean Johnson, Paul J. Karlstrom, Sharon Spain, editors
Stanford University Press, 2008
Pages 2; 3, Portrait of Adolph Sutro; 469, profile and photographic self-portrait; 470, profile; 478 and 479, photographs of Chinese man and costumed Chinese opera performers

(Next post on Friday: Wai Cheu Hin, Photographer)

No comments:

Post a Comment