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Late 19th Century Gouache - Album of Twelve Chinese Figures on Pith Paper



This remarkable survival contains twelve Chinese gouache paintings on pith paper, in their original red silk album. A contents list has been attached to the inside of the front board, detailing each figure in order: 'Emperor, Empress, Prime Minister, his Lady, Governor General, his Lady, Manchu Tartar General, his Lady, Mandarin of 3rd Rank Blue Button, his Lady, Inferior Mandarin, his Wife'.

The artist is extremely skilled in their brushwork, with very fine and minute details in the traditional dress of many of the figures. The brightly coloured portraits are evocative of the ancient traditions in China, from the layered regalia of the Empress to more simple civilian dress. Each portrait has been attached to the pages of the album using blue taped fabric borders.

Unsigned. On Pith Paper.


The front board of the album is detached, and the spine of the album has deteriorated significantly. There are losses and fragmentation to the silk coverings, and the rear cover is partially loose with creasing to the lower left corner. All twelve paintings have tears and splitting in some way, with some losses to corners. One of the paintings has an area of loss including part of the head of the figure. The paint itself is remarkably bright and vivid for its age.


13.9 x 9.9cm (5.5" x 3.9")
Sheet: 17.6 x 15.5cm (6.9" x 6.1")

Collection Information

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 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.

The albums of pith paintings (and later small glass-fronted boxes) were light, easy to pack and gave the pictures some protection on the long voyage home. As 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, as pith did not lend itself to the flat wash of colour favoured for European watercolours.

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More Information
Code pm280
Date Late 19th Century
Dimensions 13.9 x 9.9cm
Framed No
Medium Gouache
Style Asian
Subject Portrait
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