In his 1978 work Orientalism, Edward Said accused Western artists and intellectuals of instrumentalising their perception of the Islamic world to support the narrative of Western dominance and colonialism. The British Museum’s show of Orientalist painting from the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, allows us to evaluate the truth of Said’s statement.

Western complaints about Chinese-manufactured copies are nothing new. In 1801, a certain Captain John E Swords approached Gilbert Stuart to purchase a copy of the painter’s famous portrait of George Washington. Stuart, who had burned before, extracted a promise from Swords as a condition of the sale that he would have no further copies executed.

For the better part of a century, painters flocked to Paris. Mary Cassatt and James Whistler came from the United States, Gris and Picasso from Spain, Kandinsky from Russia. Paris was the place to be even for, as is less known, for Chinese artists. It is a curious comment on China’s interaction with Art-with-a-capital-A that while many people will be familiar with Monet, few (including, one suspects, the Chinese themselves) will know much if anything about Pan Yu-lin (or Pan Yuliang, as she is also known).