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19th Century Chinese Export Pith Painting of a Junk
Early 19th Century Chinese Export Pith Painting of a Junk, likely circa 1830s, having a very finely painted oil on pith paper view of an exquisite Junk with dramatic shear, elaborately carved gunnel and transom, decorative paintwork, furled sails, flying banners and burgees; the detail is great enough to instruct in how the exotic craft was built and rigged. Pith paintings are first known from the 1820s, and enjoyed their heyday in the 1830s and 40s. Although several famous artists are known to have included them among their craft, pith paintings were never signed. The very nature of the medium has been shrouded in much confusion over the years, often being called rice paper or mulberry paper. In fact, the paper was handmade by cutting extremely thin sheets from the spongy central pith of the small evergreen tree Tetrapanax papyrifera, which, lacking a Western common name, has come to be called "The Rice Paper Tree." The sheets were dried, trimmed and used for painting without any further processing, other than a surface coat of gouache which produced a very bright and sparkly effect. The surface would not hold watercolors, so the paintings were created with oil paints applied with very fine brushes containing very few hairs. The size of the evergreen tree limited the size of pith paintings, where most are in the 4 x 6 inch range or smaller. Very large ones, as seen here, are more rare, more valuable, and always of exquisite quality. Subject matters vary from portraits, domestic scenes, landscapes, industry and labor; ship portraits and nautical scenes are always highly sought and generally achieve among the highest prices. This one was originally purchased by our client at $1800 but has been marked down at their request. A matched companion painting is also available (listed here on 1stdibs).
Image Measures: 8.25 in H x 12 .25 in W
Frame Measures: 16.25 in H x 20.25 in W