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A Chinese album of paintings,

late 19th century-early 20th century




No image
  • Details

    Place where the work was made
    Guangzhou China
    Cultural origin
    late 19th century-early 20th century
    Media category
    Materials used
    watercolour on pith paper
    33.7 x 24.0 x 25.0 cm closed; 33.7 x 49.0 x 25.0 cm open
    Gift of Peter and Jenny Piestley in memory of Professor Henry Priestley 2021
    Not on display
    Accession number
    Artist information

    Works in the collection


  • About

    Pith paper paintings refer to a specific category of paintings that were produced by artists in workshops in Guangdong (then Canton) in south China from the mid-1820s to the early 20th century. The paintings were made particularly to appeal to western traders as souvenirs or gifts to take back home and were sometimes referred to simply as ‘picture postcards’.

    Rather than canvas, European paper, Chinese rice paper or silk, the images were painted on the white pith of a locally grown tree, tetrapanax papyrifer (in Chinese tongcao, 通草), from which the inner spongy cellular tissue was cut out to make thin sheets for painting. The painters usually used opaque and translucent watercolours alongside white pigment known as Chinese white.

    The pith paintings illustrate elements from Chinese life of the time that were considered of interest to foreigners, including the clothing of Chinese officials and their wives, stages in the production of commodities such as tea and silk, local customs, and flora and fauna of the region. This album contains 33 images which depict silk manufacturing, female musicians playing traditional Chinese instruments, and colourful butterflies flying among a range of floral blooms.

    The meticulously painted butterflies and flowers demonstrate the great skill of these Chinese artists of the19th century.

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