Tianjin Ladies and a severed head

A good 20 years ago now, a clumsy au pair in London dropped the detachable head of our elegant Tianjin clay figurine lady, and her face smashed into unattractive pieces.

Now, after her owners’ own marital journey of breakage and reconstruction, our Lady of Tianjin has finally been returned to amazing beauty by the National Trust’s master restorer Penny Fisher (details on request.) To whom the warmest thanks.


The photos, I hope you’ll agree, are striking.

And amusing also the Post Office’s surprise and confusion, as related by Penny, when she replied “a severed head” to their question about what the return parcel contained.

While long broken, Our Lady of Tianjin has never been alone. Visiting Tianjin in the mid-1980s, Jutta and I secured also a lady who might have been her mother, at a rather different stage of life, burrowing for her purse under her layers of winter clothing.


Below, our Lady of Tianjin with her head at her feet – and following, a view from below at the exquisite detail of her mother’s clay work.


We have a lot of lovely clobber from our years in China, from furniture to porcelain to scrolls and prints, all now happily reunited. But I think these two are my favourites.

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