CHINA, Canton School.
[Album of exceptional watercolours of members of the Chinese court, various occupations, landscape views, Chinese junks and botanical and ornithological subjects]
[Canton: circa 1830]. Small 4to. (9 3/4 x 7 7/8 inches). 61 watercolour and gouache drawings, on J. Whatman wove paper watermarked 1829, interleaved with blanks. The first watercolour, within an elaborate border, featuring a seated woman holding a sheet of paper inscribed G. Jackson, 1836.
Contemporary dark purple straight grained morocco, covers bordered in gilt and blind with a central device in gilt, spine wide flat bands in four compartments, tooled in gilt, Liverpool bookseller's ticket on the front pastedown (Richard Taylor), glazed yellow endpapers, gilt edges
Provenance: G. Jackson (inscription dated 1836 on tablet on first image)
A lovely album of pre-Opium Wars Chinese export watercolors of the highest quality.
Beginning in the late 18th century, centered on the treaty port of Canton, there existed a thriving trade in watercolours executed by local Chinese artists and sold to the western merchants and travellers. The best known result of this trade is William Mason's Costume of China, first published in London in 1800, which is illustrated with 60 hand-coloured aquatints adapted from a series of original watercolours by Pu-Qua of Canton.
Importantly, the watercolours in the present album are of a uniformly higher quality than usually encountered, including vivid colouring and the use of gold. The subjects include members of the court and occupations (15), junks and ships (7), landscapes (7) and natural history subjects including flowers, birds and insects (32). Collections of Chinese export watercolors were routinely executed on less expensive pith paper, whereas the present watercolours are on high quality wove paper. The album represents a more prestigious style of export watercolor paintings specifically meant for wealthy Europeans. These are Chinese watercolors of the highest quality, designed and executed to the highest standards.
Chinese export watercolours occupy "a space which is neither wholly Chinese nor wholly European, but which can, by the nature of the compromises it makes, tell us a lot about how one culture saw the other in the age before photography" (Clunas, p. 11).
Crossman, The China Trade (Princeton: 1972); Clunas, Chinese Export Watercolours (London: 1984).