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Pair of Chinese 19th Century Gouaches on Pith Paper



Pith paper laid on backing paper which has been fixed to a wooden frame. Unsigned. On Pith Paper.


Losses, tears and discolouration to pith paper as seen in photos. The pith paper is starting to coming loose from the backing card. Losses to corners of pith paper. Brown staining to lower left of seated figure.


13.3 x 8.3cm (5.2" x 3.3")
Sheet: 20.9 x 15.3cm (8.2" x 6")

Collection Information

This painting on pith forms part of a larger collection of gouaches by presumably the same artist or set of artists dating from the 19th century. The collection is comprised of a wide range of traditional subjects including costume studies, festival scenes, fishing boats (or junk boats) at sea and depictions of torture. Fragile by nature, these paintings on pith paper have kept in remarkably good condition, maintaining their vibrancy by virtue of being stowed away in adequate conditions and out of direct light. Pith presumably came into use for painting to satisfy the increasing demand for small, inexpensive and easily transported souvenirs, following the massive growth in the China Trade in the first quarter of the nineteenth century. Paintings in oils, on board and canvas were costly and difficult to carry home. Earlier and more prestigious export water-colours had often been on a larger scale and painted on fine Chinese paper or on paper imported from Europe. They may have suited the sea-captains and informed the aristocracy but for the hoi polloi they were too expensive. The albums of pith paintings (and later the little glass-fronted boxes) were inexpensive, light, easy to pack and gave the pictures some protection on the long voyage home. Because many were sold in albums and hence protected from the light, they retain their bright colours to this day. Because of the nature of pith and its cellular structure, the gouache used by the Chinese sat on the surface and produced a bright and even sparkling effect. Very fine detail could be achieved but pith did not lend itself to the flat wash of colour favoured for European watercolours.

More Information
Code pj735
Date 19th Century
Dimensions 13.3 x 8.3cm
Medium Gouache
Style Asian
Subject Portrait
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