|Chinese Export, circa 1820|
A rare complete set of twelve Chinese Trade paintings, depicting the growing, harvesting and processing of tea. The gouaches depict the stages of tea processing: breaking up the soil in preparation for planting; sowing the tea bushes; cultivating the plants; picking the tea leaves; bringing in the leaves from the fields for sorting; transferring the heaped tea into baskets and trays; firing the tea; setting out the leaves on circular trays to dry; pounding and drying the tea leaves; packing the tea; a tea hong in Canton: repacking in crates for shipping in the background, weighing the tea in scales in the centre, negotiating with Western merchants for purchase and marking the crates in the foreground; a rare view of the exterior of a tea hong in Canton: packing of tea and its distribution and transportation by river.
The paintings are accurate in their depiction of technical detail but the surroundings in which the scenes are set are far removed from the realities of where they would have been produced. This set illustrates a well-ordered estate and some of the buildings in the background might be European, possibly suggesting European ownership.
|Location of Origin: Asia|
|Medium/Materials: gouache on paper|
|Dimensions: Height: 12.5 inches (32cm), Width: 17 inches (43cm)|
|Primary Classification: Antique Picture Frames and Fine Art for Sale : Other|
|Secondary Classification: Asian Art : Chinese Antiques|
|From the middle of the eighteenth century, trade increased between China and England, America and Europe for tea, porcelain and silk, which led to curiosity about life in the exotic east. Chinese Trade paintings offered a glimpse of the culture, trade, commerce and topography of Asia to the English, who were curious to learn more about this distant and exotic place. Western traders commissioned albums which portrayed people and scenes of daily life - images of Chinese culture which were taken back to the West. The paintings were produced in the port cities of China and were popular souvenirs, sold to western travellers and merchants. Trade paintings were executed in Chinese studios by a number of painters, each specialising in one aspect such as heads, clothing, or trees. Works by Chinese artists traditionally lacked perspective, which was depicted in a flat and vertical manner. However, in order to meet the taste of the Western market and due to the influence of Western prints and artists arriving in Asia, the Trade paintings exhibited a visually interesting combination of Chinese and Asian techniques. The bright flat colour and adoption of Western perspective techniques gave the works a naivety.|
The most highly sought after paintings created by Chinese artists for export were watercolours and gouaches depicting commerce and trade industries, usually originally presented in a set of twelve but usually split up over the years. Water-based paint is a traditional Chinese medium and watercolour and gouache on European paper or a fragile Chinese pith paper were the usual techniques.
Bibliography: Tania M. Buckrell Pos, Tea & Taste: The Visual Language of Tea (Schiffer Publishing, 2004), pp.140-146: Chinese Export Paintings
Pauline Webber, Head of Paper, Books & Paintings Conservation, ‘A souvenir from Guangzhou’ in the V&A Conservation Journal (Autumn 2004: Number 48), pp.2-4
|Provenance: Private Collector, UK|
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