Pair of Chinese Pith Watercolours of Figures (Two Women), c. 1860

Circa 1860
Each Frame: 16cm x 11.5cm
Standard Parcel
A framed pair of small watercolour paintings on pith or rice paper depicting women in traditional costumes.
Pith has a tendency to become brittle with age, but these are still in very good condition with bright colours and no damage.
The West has long been fascinated by China, but access to the country during the first part of the 19th century was restricted to the trading port of Canton (Guangzhou). With visitors looking for souvenirs, Canton-based artists turned to a local product which was cheap and plentiful, a small evergreen tree called Tetrapanax papyrifer. Slices of the white pith of this tree had traditionally been used to make artificial flowers and it was found that its velvet texture lent itself well to the application of watercolours. The oldest known Chinese pith watercolours date from the mid-1820s. The artists used gouache - watercolours with an added white pigment – and often applied it to the back of the paintings as well to increase opacity. Pith absorbs water so the paint layer is raised, creating an attractive embossed surface. The pith paintings were often bound in albums, most commonly in groups of twelve. Each album usually covered a single subject. These examples could be from a book of costumes. Pith painting flourished between the 1820s and 1860s, but declined over the course of the century as photographs and picture postcards became available as mementos of a trip to China.