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Fortune Teller
12.5" x 8.5"
Oil on board
1898

In 1885, Nelson A. Primus moved from Boston, Massachusetts, where he worked and studied portrait painting, to San Francisco, California, where he lived in the city’s predominantly Chinese community. Fortune Teller, a work for which he is now well known, is an example of his realistic portrayal of life in Chinatown during the end of the 19th century. In this work, with deft painterly skill, Primus depicts a red-robed fortune teller smoking a pipe at a makeshift desk of papers. The dark, decaying environment, rendered in deep tones and gestural brushstrokes, adds a mysterious aura to the scene, and the feeling of isolation parallels the ghettoization that the Chinese endured during this period of American history.