The full content of this document is only available to subscribing institutions. More information can be found via

Title Drawings 43-49, Flowers
Reference Col. 111, box 9
Library Winterthur Library
Collection The Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera
Collection Series Collection of Chinese Export Watercolours, [c. 1790 - c. 1860]
Date n.d.
Document Type Painting
Theme(s) Trade and Commerce; Arts and Artefacts; The Natural World
Keywords commodity, art, goods, trade, chinoiserie, culture, watercolour, album, nature, flowers, plants, flora and fauna
Countries China; USA
Additional Information

Chinese export watercolors were painted in the port cities of China for sale to western customers in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Until the middle of the 19th century the watercolors were mostly souvenirs brought back by merchants. Afterward, they became commodities in their own right. The watercolors were painted in workshops using mass production techniques. Works were done in watercolor or gouache, initially on European papers, particularly paper produced by the English firm of J Whatman, but later on pith ‘paper’, produced from the pith of the Chinese plant tongcao. Many were issued in sets covering trades, domestic interiors and gardens, boats, birds, mandarins, etc. Particularly popular were sets illustrating tea culture, the silk industry, and the making of porcelain as they explained the 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 drawings belong to the largest album in the collection, which has been disbound. In its entirety it contains eighty-two detailed watercolor drawings, compiled from the work of various anonymous artists from a number of Canton workshops during the Qing Dynasty, largely the Jiaging and Daoguang periods (1796-1820 and 1821-50 respectively). The drawings were part of the trade of Chinese export watercolors intended for the British market. Three of the pages bear a watermark for J Whatman. The album encompasses a sampling of five genres as follows: forty-eight of fruit and flowers characteristic of Chinese attention to withered and insect-damaged leaves; seven of fish, all against a plain background; eleven of birds in habitat; eleven of Chinese officials and their wives against a plain background; and five interior and terrace scenes of daily Chinese life.

Please note that some of the metadata for this document has been drawn from the Winterthur Library catalogue.

Copyright Winterthur Library