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“China Trade Paintings” : A Historical Perspective on Paintings and Furniture

Updated: Apr 3

"View of foreign factories in Guanzhou", oil on canva. Hong Kong Museum of Art crédits : HKMA

The Evolution of Chinese Paintings in Trade

China's rich history in trade, particularly in the realm of art, offers a fascinating journey through time. Central to this journey is the evolution of Chinese paintings, with notable contributions from artists such as Spoilum, George Chinnery, and Lam Qua. These artists, active during the 18th and 19th centuries, brought a unique blend of Eastern and Western techniques to their work, creating a distinctive genre that captured the imagination of both local and international audiences.

LAM QUA "View of Foreign Factories, Canton, 1825–1835"

Spoilum, Chinnery, and Lam Qua: Bridging Cultures through Art

Spoilum, a pioneer in this field, is recognized as one of the first Chinese artists to adopt Western painting techniques. His oil paintings, a rarity in China at the time, depicted vivid scenes of Chinese ports and daily life, offering a glimpse into a world previously unseen by many in the West. George Chinnery, an English painter who spent much of his life in China, embraced the local culture and landscape. His works, predominantly in oil and watercolor, captured the bustling life of Chinese ports and the serene beauty of the countryside.Lam Qua, a protégé of Chinnery, furthered this cultural synthesis. His portraits and medical illustrations, often in oil, showcased a meticulous attention to detail and a deep understanding of Western artistic principles.

Chinese School, The Spanish, American, British, and Dutch Hongs at Canton, circa 1826. 23 x 31 ½ in (58.4 x 80 cm). Photo credits : Christie's

The Art of Port Views and Ships

A significant aspect of this period was the paintings of port views and ships. These works, primarily in oil, watercolor, and gouache, served as visual chronicles of the vibrant trade activities and maritime prowess of China. The use of watercolor and gouache, in particular, lent a transparency and luminosity to these paintings, making them highly sought after by collectors and traders alike.

The Enigmatic World of Painting on Glass

An intriguing offshoot of Chinese art in trade was the practice of painting on glass. This technique, which emerged in the 18th century, involved applying oil or water-based paints onto the reverse side of glass panels. The subjects often included landscapes, portraits, and scenes from Chinese mythology, reflecting both the artistic trends of the time and the demand from Western consumers fascinated by the exotic East.

CHINA for export, 18th century. Elegant under glass, featuring the portrait of a young Western woman holding a mask. Expertise by Gauchet Asian Art Cabinet. Credits: Yann Girault."

The Splendor of Export Furniture

Parallel to the trade in paintings was the flourishing market for Chinese export furniture. Crafted from precious woods such as rosewood and mahogany, these pieces were renowned for their exquisite craftsmanship and durability. The lacquer export furniture, in particular, stood out for its use of fine lacquer, a resin obtained from specific trees in Asia. This lacquer, applied in multiple layers, created a deep, lustrous finish that was both beautiful and resistant to wear..

CHINA, Canton School, 19th century. Black lacquered wooden cabinet with two front doors, each adorned with a decoration of three painted alabaster panels. Rear support. Expertise by Gauchet Asian Art Cabinet, sold for 2500 euros. Crédits : Yann Girault

Regional Variations and Techniques

These furniture pieces, often made in the coastal regions of China, were designed to cater to Western tastes. The incorporation of European design elements into traditional Chinese motifs created a unique aesthetic that appealed to a diverse clientele.

Gauchet Art Asiatique: A Bridge between Past and Present

In the modern era, the expertise of cabinet Gauchet Art Asiatique, led by expert Jean Gauchet, has become pivotal in preserving and promoting this rich heritage. Their partnership with auctioneers and auction houses across France offers a gateway to this fascinating world. With the possibility of obtaining estimates either through photographs or personal appointments, Gauchet Art Asiatique provides an invaluable service to collectors and enthusiasts alike.

The trade of Chinese paintings and furniture not only represents a significant economic activity but also a cultural exchange that has enriched the artistic landscapes of both the East and West. The contributions of artists and craftsmen from this period continue to influence and inspire, bridging past and present, and ensuring that this rich heritage remains a vibrant part of our global cultural tapestry.


“The China Trade” par Carl L. Crossman*

"George Chinnery (1774-1852) : Artiste de l'Inde et de la Côte de Chine," par Patrick Conner.* "La Laque : Technologie et Conservation," par Marianne Webb.

Our official website : Gauchet Art Asiatique.

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