Emperor and Empress
7 x 8.25 inches
A pair of Chinese watercolours depicting Imperial Chinese figures, painted in southern China circa 1860.
These watercolours are exceptionally decorative examples of the trade that grew up in the Cantonese region of southern China from the middle of the nineteenth century onwards. They date from a period when western influence was spreading overseas via the trade routes and there was an increased fascination with orientalism accompanied by a growing demand back in Europe for souvenirs from the Far East. To meet this demand a plethora of artists’ workshops developed in and around Canton in the southern provinces of China. Here, whole teams of artists would work to produce images that were both pleasing to the western eye and yet retentive of oriental influence. This resultant hybrid style led to the trade in Chinese watercolours that was to flourish from the 1840’s right through to the nineteenth century. The paintings would typically depict Chinese flora and fauna, costumes, rituals and occupations but more gruesome subjects such as torture were also illustrated. They were painted on a pith paper using brightly coloured paints and usually bordered with silk. Many were transported back to Europe on board the tea clippers, bound in small silk covered boards, and intended as gifts to be passed around the wealthy inhabitants of cities such as London and Paris.