CHINESE EXPORT GOUACHES. Album of Seventeen Chinese Gouaches on pith paper. Illustrated with 17 gouaches on pith paper ranging in size from 145 x 244 mm to 174 x 300 mm, each with tissue guard and ornamental gold foil border, mounted on thick paper stock. Oblong folio, 260 x 355 mm, bound in an elaborate Romantic French full tan calf mosaic binding, elaborately stamped in gilt, with geometric panels painted by hand, silk label in the center stamped "Album" in gilt, gilt foil inside dentelles, wood panel patterned endpapers, a.e.g. [Canton: ca. 1840]. WITH:
Album of Twelve Chinese Gouaches on pith paper. Illustrated with 12 gouaches on pith paper ranging in size from 174 x 285 mm to 193 x 306 mm, each with tissue guard and ornamental gold foil border mounted on thick paper stock. Oblong folio, 255 x 360 mm, bound in a Romantic French full purple morocco binding, elaborately stamped in gilt with hand painted silk inlays of natural history scenes and three gentleman playing a board game (?), gilt foil inside dentelles, pastedowns painted in deep blue with gold ornamental boarders, a.e.g. [Canton: ca. 1840].
Two albums of Chinese Export paintings of high quality, luxuriously bound for a French patron who most likely commissioned the gouaches. The first album depicts three courtly portraits, a fully realized interior scene of a woman and a man playing go with a third woman looking on, followed by a series of twelve gouaches showing the tea trade from its planting, harvesting, transportation to the ports and eventual sale to a Western merchant. The second album presents two court scenes, followed by depictions of street scenes that include images of a hat maker, net maker, a theatrical performance, rice seller and several characters more difficult to identify.
Chinese export gouaches provided Western travelers with a luxurious souvenir offering a visual document of Chinese culture that was often more in line with preconceived European notions than actuality. Albums were produced by Chinese craftsman in workshops located in port cities like Canton. Popular subjects included court scenes, tradesmen, costumes, junks, flowers, birds and depictions of the porcelain, tea and silk industries. These albums were popular from the end of the eighteenth century through the middle of the nineteenth century, after which the advent of photography diminished their number and quality. Early examples would be painted on Western paper, and around 1820, examples painted on locally made pith paper, as here, began to appear.
The present two albums are unusual and exceptional for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the high quality of the painting, which, as in most examples, was likely done by several hands. The courtly attire is well achieved with gilt highlights and tight brushwork in the ornate flowing costume of the dignitaries. The depictions of the tea trade in the first album demonstrate a mastery of perspective showing landscapes of the planting fields, architectural elements and interiors inhabited by pickers, labourers and merchants. The street scenes in the second album achieve an engaging composition as they provide the sense of a bustling street populated by Chinese characters with expressive, individual faces.
Although examples on Western paper are considered more luxurious, the size of the pith paper sheets in both albums is larger than most examples, as the delicate process of making pith paper rendered larger sheets difficult to make. The albums are preserved in deluxe French Romantic bindings, the second binding with the painted onlays was most certainly commissioned specifically by the collector for the Chinese content. Also the gold foil borders in lieu of the blue silk borders which normally surround pith paintings adds to the sense of luxury.
In recent times albums such as these, due to their decorative properties, have been broken up to sell as individual plates. Having remained in albums and unexposed to sunlight, the gouaches are fresh and vibrant, often appearing to float off the page. A few unobtrusive cracks in the pith paper, the bindings in beautiful condition, overall fine.
See: Clunas, Chinese Export Watercolours and Crossman, The China Trade.
Item nr. 146488
Price: $50,000.00 save 30% $35,000.00