antique prints, maps and watercolors

Chinese Export Watercolor "Drying and Sorting Tea," c. 1800-1810. $1,850.00

click for detailed image ChneseExportTea1.JPG

Scarce Original Chinese Export Watercolor Tea Cultivation "Drying Tea"

Chinese export watercolors were painted in the port cities of China for sale to western customers in the late 18th and 19th centuries during the height of the China Trade era. American’s China trade was robust after the Revolutionary War, as 19th century Boston-based entrepreneurial merchants (like their British counterparts) seized the opportunity to trade with the East. Originally brought home as souvenirs by merchants and sea captains, these handsome watercolor paintings soon became commodities in their own right. Works were done in watercolor or gouache, initially on European papers and later, on pith "paper," produced from the pith of the Chinese plant tongcao. Many watercolors were painted as sets describing trades, domestic interiors and gardens, boats, birds, mandarins, etc. Certainly, the most popular and desirable were sets illustrating tea culture, silk industry, and porcelain production, as they explained visually, those products imported to the west. Colors used were those common in Chinese painting, but there was a clear tendency for primary hues to predominate, especially in those done on pith paper. These watercolors were meant to be displayed. As they are fragile works of ground pigment on paper, they are/were susceptible to the elements, and very few exist in good condition and very few complete sets ever come onto the market.

“These subjects were immensely popular…, since they explained to the westerner, in a most imaginary, glamorous and unrealistic manner, the making of products sent to the West. The tea culture series represented all the processes from growing the tea bush to its final shipment and sale. Since tea was the major commodity of the trade, these watercolors found a ready market.”
Ref: Crossman, Carl. The Decorative Arts of the China Trade, pg. 170

An original gouache watercolor on paper signed in Chinese characters, lower right margin.
Measuring 15.5 x 19 inches sight.
21.5 x 25 inches overall.
Framed archivally with non-acidic mats, linen tape and backing boards, UV filter glass. With old folds, cracks and light water stain upper right corner of image – signs of age and poor storage over the years, otherwise color intact with no fading, a beautiful original watercolor. Please contact us for detailed photos.